I have just successfully completed two FutureLearn (full disclosure: a friend of mine works for the company, but beyond sharing some of my experience with him this has not affected my studies) courses: “Why We Post” and “Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started.”
Listening to the Click podcast (What is the Point of Posting on Social Media?) was where I first heard about the MOOC on Social Media, and was soon hooked into enrolling.
The experience gave a chance to do a coupe of things:
The “Why We Post” course was not what I thought it would be. Even though I knew what some of the focus was based upon listening to the interviews on the Click podcast, I still expected to see coverage of social networking platforms and techniques. The course was more the sharing of anthropological research from a series of field sites around the world.
However, it was a fun course and I particularly enjoyed the discussion board conversations with several participants. Each day I would eagerly check to see if there were any replies to a conversation in which we were exploring ways in which the research could be improved.
Book: How The World Changed Social Media
The course also shared some particularly helpful open resources:
The FutureLearn platform is very much designed for the Cloud. The central concept is that the courses, content, discussion, and student progress will stay there forever in an open and accessible format. I am a cynical individual, so my progress through the course was largely to copy content down to a working journal. Here I could record my progress and compose my responses before copying and pasting back to the discussion boards. For that reason, the course worked best for me where I could use a large monitor in a nice quiet office.
However, the platform would work very well for those on a mobile device (i.e. iPhone or iPad) with no need to save content locally. All elements of the course worked well on the mobile devices I tested on – far better than my experience with Blackboard or Desire2Learn.
Initially I was less impressed with the discussion board. The options to post and reply are very limited (no formatting of text or adding multimedia). Nested replies were not possible. However, I assume this is a tradeoff in terms of ease-of-use, security, and speed (storage). This did not prove to be an issue.
By testing on both courses I was able to experience quizzes, peer assessment, and video. FutureLearn provides both subtitles and transcription for the videos. The videos can be streamed or downloaded.
The profile options were simple, but easy to use.
The business model seems to be partially underwritten by “Statements of Participation.” These can be purchased after successfully completing a set percentage of the course. The certificates are reasonably priced, and can be embedded in LinkedIn. I was very happy to pay what I did for the experience. I have no idea how highly the statements are viewed by employers or higher education.
The material here was more familiar to me, and I was interested to see how the two educators designed and delivered this course. One technique in particular impressed me…
Creating presence in an online course can be difficult – after a while students drop out due to inertia and competing demands on their time. With presence (the addictive need to check into a course and see what is happening), you are more likely to see those students complete the course.
Diana Laurillard and Neil Morris did a great job of crafting easily digestible content and activities that were just the right size. Additionally, they used Google Hangouts and Twitter to make themselves approachable and relevant as the course was taught. Answering questions live in front of a webcam is a scary experience, but became one of the high points of the course (one good technique that Neil followed was to blend live questions from Hangouts with printed questions and Tweets). I am very tempted to try the same thing later in the year.
Two quotes during the course resonated with me:
- “It is hard to sell a thing that is free”
- Neil Morris pointed out that the costs of developing the MOOC were high, and they had crafted a quality product. However, marketing a free service was far harder than getting students into a more expensive (but equivalent) experience.
- “We must be careful that the educator’s ‘flexibility of time’ is not taken to mean ‘elasticity of time’”
Anyway, looking forward to the second Blended Learning course in June.