OCWC POERUP external evaluation of FutureLearn community


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FutureLearn is a private company wholly owned by the UK Open University. It has partnered with over 20 leading UK universities to form the FutureLearn consortium. Since October 2013 this has offered a range of MOOCs focussed at informal learning on subjects typically taught at university level. FutureLearn has partnered also with three UK institutions with archives of cultural and educational material - the British Council, the British Library, and the British Museum - and with a few non-UK universities, so far the University of Auckland, Monash University and Trinity College Dublin.

This paper is a case study of FutureLearn. Unlike many case studies of such MOOC-based and OER initiatives, it is not from a member of the consortium. Indeed the case study will not use any privileged information. In evaluation terms it is carried out from an “external observer” standpoint, not from a “participant-observer” standpoint.

The key research question for this case study is to establish the strength and functions of the FutureLearn community - the community of staff at institutions who are engaged, increasingly collaboratively, in creating the FutureLearn courses, supporting the students, and co-developing the FutureLearn software systems and procedures.

The reason for this case study is to test one of the fundamental hypotheses of the POERUP project. POERUP, Policies for OER Uptake, is a study project funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission, running from late 2011 until June 2014. Among the core tasks of POERUP are to produce seven in-depth case studies of OER and MOOC communities. In addition to FutureLearn these include OER university (global), Wikiwijs (Netherlands) and ALISON (Ireland).

The research methodology involves so far:

1. documentary analysis of the FutureLearn project, involving what it says about itself and what others say about it, and a preliminary set of informal discussions with stakeholders.

2. in-depth interviews, using an interview template, with key staff at FutureLearn partners.

There will be a final phase of documentary analysis in the May-June 2014, before the end of the POERUP project.

The communities in the POERUP case studies are being analysed using Social Network Analysis, to varying degrees of depth depending on the activity within the communities. Bieke Schreurs the co-author of the presentation is responsible for this aspect of the research (Schreurs et al 2013).

The evidence we have gathered in the POERUP project indicates that at least within the European Union the era of large state-funded OER content initiatives is almost over. Our hypothesis is that a development such as FutureLearn is much more the kind of partnership - public and private, ambitious but not unrealistically so, nationally based yet not nationally bounded - that will succeed - and we want to understand and document why this is so in order that others can learn from it.

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OCWC POERUP external evaluation of FutureLearn community

  1. 1. The POERUP External Evaluation of the FutureLearn community Paul Bacsich, POERUP Project Manager Bieke Schreurs, OU Netherlands
  2. 2. FutureLearn https://www.futurelearn.com • To bring together a range of free, open, online courses from leading UK universities, that will be clear, simple to use and accessible • To draw on the UK Open University’s expertise in delivering distance learning and pioneering open education resources to underpin a unified, coherent offer from all of its partners • To increase accessibility to higher education (HE) for students across the UK and in the rest of the world
  3. 3. FutureLearn – disclaimer/ethics • This is an external evaluation of FutureLearn done for the POERUP project, part-funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the EU, with a focus on the community-building aspects in respect of staff. • It is based on desk research and interviews of stakeholders in the FutureLearn community. • No views are specifically attributed. • No confidential information was made specifically available; none has been knowingly used.
  4. 4. Overview • The evaluation process • Overview of FutureLearn • The FutureLearn Community • Sustainability, Success Factors, and Replicability to other EU countries
  5. 5. The Evaluation Process
  6. 6. Evaluation process 1. Selection of FutureLearn (spring 2013) 2. Initial desk research (spring 2013) 3. Preliminary interviews and discussions (summer 2013 – decided a case study was premature) 4. Stakeholder interviews (March 2014) 5. Report ready April 2014 – journal paper to be submitted
  7. 7. FutureLearn Overview
  8. 8. FutureLearn Overview #1 • A private company wholly owned by UK Open University • Launched in December 2012 with 12 HE partners • New MOOC platform has been developed • First MOOCs available from October 2013 • 26 university partners including Open University • 1 from Eire, 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia • A few more “expected” • Also British Library, British Museum, British Council
  9. 9. FutureLearn Overview #2 • Initial HE partners were arguably less experienced in OER and e-learning than was typical of UK research-led institutions • But with over 20 UK HEIs now involved the majority of Russell Group and some other high-rank English universities are in FutureLearn – some with significant e-learning experience beyond FutureLearn including in MIT and Coursera and many online DL MSc programmes • Though there are some surprising holdouts
  10. 10. FutureLearn Overview #3 • Content owned by partner HEIs • Platform is owned by Open University • Partner institutions have control over how and when courses are provided • FutureLearn supports the Creative Commons license but partner HEIs can decide themselves about the appropriate licensing for the course content. • HEI partners might offer additional optional resources that require payment by learners, or offer additional services of interest to learners that come with a price attached • FutureLearn is likely to offer additional paid services in the future in order to make the service sustainable but the core remains open and free • All learner content is published under a Creative Commons NC BY ND licence
  11. 11. The FutureLearn Community Based on desk research, and interviews (March 2014)
  12. 12. FutureLearn Community • (focus is currently on staff aspects) • At this stage the community is similar to many “hub and spoke” consortial models in the last 10 years but outer nodes more isolated from each other than the typical “joint Masters” consortium funded by EU etc • A team at each HEI develops each of its own offerings, with support from the centre • The offerings do not (yet) form part of some larger whole (e.g. full MSc programme) • There is as yet little cross-linking of HEI teams but there is some informal linking in some subjects, and on technical issues, and this is likely to grow • The community did not grow from the earlier OER community round the JISC OER Programme, it had more to do with professional links, e.g. of managers through e.g. HELF
  13. 13. Community in pictures
  14. 14. Maintaining the community • There are regular face-to-face meetings which are “very valuable” (for UK members…) • No sophisticated collaboration tools are used • Joint working occurs e.g. when prioritising bug fixes and discussing work-arounds • It will require more time to develop deeper learning and knowledge sharing within the community
  15. 15. Other findings • HEI manager of FL does 0.25 on FL tasks • “we’ve learned a lot on copyright” [good training] • “we used JISCLegal but non-UK aspects of that are weak” • “we’re thinking of embedded MOOCs”
  16. 16. Sustainability, Success Factors, and Replicability an initial analysis
  17. 17. Sustainability • Training workshops around the use of copyright issues have helped partner HEIs to become aware of possibilities of new licensing schemes • Partner HEIs see the added value of generating expertise in online education in general (particularly relevant to those with less experience in online) • Partner institutions use the FutureLearn platform as a marketing mechanism and to reach a wider audience • Partner institutions and FutureLearn will have the opportunity to offer additional (paid) services on the platform
  18. 18. Not Critical Success Factors 1. Government funding. Very little if any government funding has gone into FutureLearn. The former massive funding of OER by JISC has all finished and the Online Learning Innovation Fund fell with the last government. 2. The national role of the OU. The “national role” of the OU ebbs and flows over the years and the last phase of a formal national role for the OU was under the last UK government.
  19. 19. Critical Success Factors 1. The strong support by David Willetts, Minister for Universities (in England) and Science (in UK), expressed by him to university rectors 2. The personal qualities, networking abilities and charisma of Martin Bean, the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University 3. The relatively comfortable financial position of leading English universities right after the new fee settlement
  20. 20. Other success factors 1. The recognised abilities and reputation of many OU staff in e-learning and distance learning in particular 2. The long track record of the OU in OER, achieved largely with US Foundation funding not only UK government and EU funding 3. The hegemonic position of the OU in undergraduate distance learning and an oligopolistic player in postgraduate distance learning 4. The massive knowledge base of the OU in terms of market research globally in distance learning, eclipsing such other agencies as there were, most of whom have (relatively) shrunk in influence 5. The potential link of MOOCs to global marketing of high-cost masters programmes in English, an unregulated market with uncapped student numbers – even a low conversion ratio from MOOCs is useful
  21. 21. FutureLearn platform • “Clean and simple”, mobile-friendly, adaptable to many devices • Limited functionality, some say “clunky” for developers, not necessarily a criticism – compare OU use of FirstClass for nearly 20 years • “technical support can be a bit stretched at times” • Will the platform be found in non-MOOC courses?
  22. 22. Replicability To other EU countries And to other parts of UK HE sector…?
  23. 23. England HE marketplace – full-time UK/EU Overseas Under- grad Quotas (still) but no cap on ABB+ students Fee cap of €10 000/yr No quotas No fee cap: but market forces Fees >> €10k/yr Post- grad No quotas No fee cap: but market forces Fees usually > €10k No quotas No fee cap: but market forces Fees >> €10k
  24. 24. Simple economics • Additional HEI staff cost for 1 year FutureLearn with 1 MOOC: €50k • Additional income: one EU u/g student: €30k (note quotas but also ABB+ and future easing) • Additional income: one o’seas p/g student: €15k • So how many new students do you need to get?
  25. 25. Final comments from sites • “we can get to lots of people” • “it’s a stepping stone” • “a window to the international scene” • “CPD might be a market” • “good research is coming out”
  26. 26. Thanks for listening Paul Bacsich, POERUP http://www.poerup.info paul.bacsich@sero.co.uk Questions and comments on relevance to other countries?