FutureLearn Ltd is the brand name for the twelve UK universities getting together with the The Open University to provide free online learning opportunities – now commonly referred to as MOOCs. The MOOC twelve are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick. It’s early days with little information about business models or other structural essentials but FutureLearn Ltd will be majority owned by the OU who are providing initial funding and technology. With their long standing experience in delivering education at a distance, the OU are in a good position to make this happen and exert influence over the processes of design and delivery of materials. UK universities in online launch to challenge US from the BBC tells us courses will be offered on the FutureLearn online platform next year with the twelve universities being responsible for their own content, quality, accreditation and cost of courses. Cost? Not truly open then? The article goes on to say there will also be social networking-style communities for students and materials will be designed for portable devices, such as iPads or mobile phones.
All of this represents a huge shift from traditional HE with massive implications for curriculum design, content production, teacher education, learning development and ICT support. Not to say this shift isn’t already happening, but those universities taking the lead will be those who already have already taken steps to ensure support is in place. Online distance education is so much more than filming a 50 minute lecture and uploading a powerpoint presentation. It requires a different approach to constructing content and social networking-style communities don’t just happen, they require shaping and supporting if they are to have relevant form and function. If open education is to work it needs appropriate support and resources around digital scholarship and digital literacies. MOOCs are the word of the moment and care needs to be taken so initial enthusiasm for the affordances of online learning are not disguising some of the potential problems underneath.