I’ve been watching FutureLearn evolve over the past few years with great interest and if I’m honest, a touch of relief. As a Brit, it’s been my kind of MOOC provider – one with early “BBC levels” of production quality, and an increasingly interesting catalogue of simpler courses from around the world, that appealed more to me that the previous generation of OpenLearn ones.
My introduction to it was for work, as pseudo-CPD MOOCs enticed me to dip into areas of marketing I would not normally choose, but latterly I’ve given up on work and started to use it for pure personal entertainment. I find it much more convenient than broadcast television and even on-demand television, which are now rare presences in my daily life.
However, I think we are now starting to see the beginning of the end of FutureLearn. Having undertaken 9 different MOOC courses since its start, it is only with the latest one I am seeing elements of paid-for only content – specifically assessments which must now be purchased mid-course. This reminds me a bit of gaming packages where in-game purchases are required to continue the game, to gain credit and to maintain interest.
I do feel sorry for FutureLearn though, as it is too expensive for the course providers and is still losing money – being bailed out by almost monthly OU shareholder injections now. Their cost base is likely too high, and the product is not of substantial credit beyond being edutainment, that new hybrid between light education and serious entertainment.
FutureLearn’s parent, the UK Open University itself needs a reboot, to get back to distance education this time with more flexible pedagogies that enable reasonable reductions in tutor involvement and costs. The new opportunities that digitally interactive content can bring await further investment. OU courses should be the most cost-competitive in the world I believe, for the quality and value the OU can still bring.
FutureLearn needs to settle around a new realisation of what it really is. An interesting mass edutainment channel, and a marketing channel for universities and other education providers. Not an online distance educator.