Open University’s FutureLearn to Compete With Coursera, Udacity

FutureLearn, wholly-owned by the UK's Open University, is working to develop online courses and become a significant MOOC provider to join the conversation with Coursera and Udacity. According to Tim Dodd of Financial Review, FutureLearn Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Simon Nelson said he believes "the digital disruption in education will broaden and enter the field of corporate training."

Nelson, who was formerly in charge of digital content at the BBC., said in Australia last week that FutureLearn is likely to include applications in executive education, corporate training, continuous professional development and personal development to its digital learning platform.

"I think that, generally, people think that corporate training is at a moment where it needs, and is about to face, its own digital disruption." He said that personal development training was also an area ripe for digital learning.

The company is teaming up with the world's largest university and education institution and is expected launch online courses at the end of the year.

FutureLearn plans to offer free online just like other large MOOC providers. The company would generate revenue by offering added-value services such as exams and certificates of completion.

According to Nelson, 21 top universities have partnered with FutureLearn and would provide online courses through its platform. In June 2013, Monash, which is the largest university in Australia, announced that it had joined FutureLearn as its first non-UK partner.

FutureLearn was looking for five and possibly ten international partner institutions, Nelson said, adding that the company also had discussions with a number of other Australian universities.

As FutureLearn enters a rapidly-developing, highly-competitive market, they have plans to develop a social digital learning platform that will allow users to follow other learners, similar to Facebook and Twitter. The platform is designed to work across devices on mobiles, tablets and desktop computers.

"We've designed this in from the very beginning, because it's very hard to retrofit into an existing site," Nelson said.

"We are trying to strike the balance between providing the learner with that user consistency, so they don't have to relearn navigation [in every course], but allowing the university to innovate in terms of the content they deliver and the applications they put on top. You [the user] will be encouraged to ask questions, answer questions, to take notes, to make observations. And we won't send you off to some separate forum to do that."

In addition, FutureLearn wants to develop a business model to allow universities benefit financially from offering free courses.

"We want to enable our partners to provide fantastic courses and then to enable whatever onward progression is appropriate. That might be students coming to do courses at those universities, or do their own online paid courses. Or there may be various forms of accreditation that the universities want to offer," Nelson said.

The British Museum and the British Library are non-academic FutureLearn's partners who will also help "make FutureLearn courses richer and broader," according to Nelson.

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