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Education The Internet United Kingdom

Massive Open Online School "FutureLearn" Opens 37

Posted by samzenpus
from the go-learn-something dept.
judgecorp writes "Twenty-three British universities are contributing to a British provider of "massive open online courses" (MOOCs) by the name of FutureLearn. Backed by long-established expert, The Open University, which has been doing remote learning for 44 years, the British MOOC provider aims to compete with US outfits such as Khan Academy and Coursera."
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Massive Open Online School "FutureLearn" Opens

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  • "Compete." (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @08:13AM (#44892395)

    The Open University had higher standards before it decided to compete on quantity, and instead just excelled quietly at offering distance learning courses using traditional materials (with alternative versions to fit accessibility needs), optional regular tutorials distributed around the country, residential schools for those who could attend them, summative coursework, and compulsory written examinations.

    In the years leading up to the 2012 funding change, it was appointed a new CEO (sorry.. I mean Vice Chancellor) who used to be an executive at Microsoft "education", and since then it's turned more to the style of a business training provider. Which is really sad. I remember chatting with Harold Wilson's son (the PM established the uni - his son is now an excellent mathematics tutor) at a residential school at the beginning of this transformation, and he talked of his regret to witness the decline of accessibility .

    Just throwing out extracts of course materials doesn't make for an education experience. It's about interaction, and challenging assessment.

    • Re:"Compete." (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @08:27AM (#44892497)

      To reply to myself, the high quality of OU textbooks are also an important feature. This is why the courses - as is perfectly acceptable at undergraduate level, where you're not learning cutting edge research techniques - had slow update cycles, with some lasting for decades. The fundamentals of Number Theory or Non-Euclidean Geometry (the M203 section dropped in M208, IIRC) won't change, for example. Then it became fashionable to tweak the courses more frequently - the government paid by number of people merely turning up to the final exam (wtf?), so hard courses with high drop-out rates were made simpler, and people discouraged from doing harder courses unless it seemed (too) certain that they were ready. As part of this, rewrites (by often reluctant academics) occurred more often - and IMHO the quality of texts for many courses declined.

      More annoyingly, however, qualifications became less challenging.

      There are sooooooooooo many brilliant educators still there, as staff and associate lecturers. So, all is not lost. But please, for heaven's sake, stop "competing" for numbers, OU, and instead just offer highly challenging but well-written courses and let those who are smart and hard-working come to you.

      • by Xest (935314)

        Agreed, I did one of my degrees with them and was considering doing another but in the last few years that quality has gone from declining, to freefall.

        They've gotten rid of important courses, sometimes amalgamating them- IIRC Number Theory, Graph Theory and one or two others at level 3 have now been squeezed all into a single (albeit 60 instead of 30 point course). The fact they've done this alone means they can't possibly cover these topics to the degree they used to.

        It never used to be perfect, I remembe

        • Ah, I never looked at M263 - I think it was the shittification of M261, a decent introduction to formal algorithm analysis (Big-Oh, proofs) which required nothing more than pen and paper. M261 was just the right course to prepare you to plough through MIT's Introduction to Algorithms textbook, being somewhat more than an "Introduction"!

          A former director of the mathematics MSc programme (who is no longer director) once lost his shit in a huge rant about how much the OU has been fucked by the stooges managing

    • Just throwing out extracts of course materials doesn't make for an education experience. It's about interaction, and challenging assessment.

      true that throwing extracts on the web doesn't help everyone but clear explanations of topics does help. this does not require two way communication. take a look at Khan Academy.

      • Re:"Compete." (Score:4, Informative)

        by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @10:24AM (#44893355)

        true that throwing extracts on the web doesn't help everyone but clear explanations of topics does help. this does not require two way communication. take a look at Khan Academy.

        Khan Academy's problem is precisely that: there are some muddy, woolly and even downright wrong explanations in his vids, because there isn't any direct feedback to prompt the tutor to reformulate.

    • I looked at the site and it is filled with fluff that you might see on public tv. Compared to MIT it is a joke. There are plenty of resources already available and it would seem that if they concentrated on cooperation and not empire building they would do better at serving their stated intent. If they had a format like stackoverflow [stackoverflow.com] it would be even better. Google already indexes and if there were a data base that was peer reviewed that would allow access at any level of understanding and problem resolutio
    • While I personally think education for the sake of learning is valuable, the real challenge is getting mainstream HR departments to acknowledge the worth of the system. It's not often that you see an entry level job description list qualifications like this:

      1. A 3 years technical experience in a related field, or

      2. A B.S. within the field, or

      3. A self directed series of (possibly free) online courses which requires us to perform a detailed analysis of your coursework and somehow compute its equivalence to

      • But 3 is just what the OU has been - offering accredited BSc/BA all the way up to PhD, on usually part time and distance learning bases.

        • But 3 is just what the OU has been - offering accredited BSc/BA all the way up to PhD, on usually part time and distance learning bases.

          That is not what FutureLearn is, though.

      • need to add up to some thing but then again if you put down I have X that is an equivalent to an degree how much cheeking will HR do?

      • They wont take courses, go to seminars or technical meetings unless the company pays full cost and on company time. Unfortunately after a couple of recessions the company has pretty much eliminated train (to the company's detriment). It used to be the past I could consult with a coworker about some new piece of technology, but mist are not very knowledgable anymore. Very sad. I dont know why I am still there.
    • Seems to be the biggest innovation of the Khan/MOOC style of online education. Otherwise OU and University of Phoenix have been doing online for over a decade, but long-lecture style.

      We have been conditioned by commercial TV to accept content in 5-10 minute chunks. Maybe that naturally fits the human attention span.
  • Thank You (Score:5, Insightful)

    by barlevg (2111272) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @08:14AM (#44892401)
    Thank you, submitter, for including what "MOOC" stands for in the summary. Too much alphabet soup around /. these days, and while Google can usually clarify, it's nice to not have to do the search.
  • by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @08:29AM (#44892501)

    There are some good people at Open University. A commenter mentioned quality. The person at OU who I work with annoys me at times because he insists on top quality. There's no such thing as a quick fix on the software we use - the OU person insists that every change is WELL thought out and implemented in the very best way possible, even if that's a lot more work than doing it the easy way.

    Best of luck to my friends at OU in this new endeavour.

    • Hurrah for your friend! Yes, this is the historical OU way. Having something excellent but slightly outdated is always better than having a fashionable structure built on sand. I hope that attitude is brought into this project.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Hurrah for your friend! Yes, this is the historical OU way. Having something excellent but slightly outdated is always better than having a fashionable structure built on sand. I hope that attitude is brought into this project.

        ... I guess not "posted from my iPhone 5s"

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @09:00AM (#44892729)
    The University of London and Edinburgh provide courses through coursera. What does having a "British alternative" give the UK. I would expect that a MOOC provider would cost rather than make money.
    • The "British alternative" is a red herring and bad PR. FutureLearn is simply an alternative MOOC platform that has been built from the ground up with mobile in mind. Coursera, Udacity and EdX all still assume that the world and his dog only access the internet at a desk, with an unlimited high-speed connection. FutureLearn have a massive potential advantage over their competitors, and they need to start pushing it to build the business before the established players catch up.
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        The "British alternative" is a red herring and bad PR. FutureLearn is simply an alternative MOOC platform that has been built from the ground up with mobile in mind. Coursera, Udacity and EdX all still assume that the world and his dog only access the internet at a desk, with an unlimited high-speed connection. FutureLearn have a massive potential advantage over their competitors, and they need to start pushing it to build the business before the established players catch up.

        Now if this is correct it will be a selling point. On a coursera course in order to study "offline/slow connection" on a mobile I had to download lectures, transcode them, put transfer them to the mobile device, then access them through file manager. If this worked like Google Drive - brows online on the device, check the "make accessible offline" it would be great. The thing is .... the site does not mention accessibility from other devices, offline/slow connection access, or anything. If this their "uniqu

  • Great, although... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Thursday September 19, 2013 @10:12AM (#44893283)

    On the one hand, such online learning systems are certainly welcome and this sounds like a good program. On the other hand, I cannot help recognizing that some of the courses are advertised like TED talks - with sensational titles and a lot of pseudo-smart attitude like in the recent, sometimes fairly mediocre regional TED talks (some of them remind me of cheap personality training videos). Titles like "The mind is flat: the shocking shallowness of human psychology" or "Sustainability, society and you", "Muslims in Britain: Changes and challenges" do sound a lot like they had been invented by politicians who wanted to implement "governmental education programs" rather than like introductions to real science. There is a reason why courses at university are called "Introduction to Cognitive Psychology", "Syntax II" or "Calculus 1", namely that there is a (hopefully) well-designed curriculum that is intended to improve real knowledge and skills as opposed to sensationalist teaching of (alleged) facts.

    Khan Academy and the Open Courseware programme by MIT and other US universities do it the right way, but I'm a bit skeptical about this one. Don't get me wrong, this one is also a good idea, but universities must also resist temptations of advertising, dumbing down, or sensationalizing their offers.

  • Didn't UK try to build an online university almost 7-8 years ago which ended in a disaster (millions of wasted money and eventual shutdown of the website) and house hearings?

    They were supposed to provide masters courses for 6000 pounds but the costs exceeded the estimates and forced them to stop the whole thing.

    • by Xest (935314)

      Not sure what you're referring to but that's partially what the OU is and it's been successful (though see my other post on this story to see why I'm not so keen on the OU nowadays).

      You can do an MSc in say, Mathematics, with the OU for about £3500 still I believe. Other topics are higher, like £9,000 or so for computing I think but it depends what you want.

      • by wmac1 (2478314)

        I just found it. It was called UKEU (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKeU). It was a famous effort which ended in am ugly shutdown.

        • by Xest (935314)

          I hadn't actually heard of it, but I had a quick glance at the article you linked and saw "David Blunkett" which told me everything I needed to know as to why it failed :)

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