Two years ago, the University of Bath committed to the FutureLearn partnership with a view to delivering a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on their newly launched platform. Quite simply, the intention was to ride on the wave of interest generated by this innovation to increase the accessibility to higher education for learners both in the UK and in the rest of the world. The university was to offer free, open, online courses that would be clear, simple to use and accessible.
In the three MOOCs that the university has offered in this time, we have engaged with 40,000+ learners from 90+ different countries, maximising our international reach whilst showcasing some of the very best of our research and learning and teaching activities. Learners have included those of school age to those entering retirement, drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, demographics and levels of experience and interest in the subject matter.
As the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills (2015) has since recognised, this wave has already demonstrated an increased emphasis on self-motivated learning through online mechanisms, where engagement in MOOCs has been used to enable ongoing continuing professional development. Indeed, our MOOCs in the areas of cancer genetics, sustainable development and remote control warfare have encouraged above average levels of engagement, lively debate and sense of professional attachment to the academics. The latter, in turn, have worked with the e-learning team to inspire the learning of ‘key concepts’ and to encourage deeper reflection of the subject matter.
One, perhaps, unintended consequence of this engagement with FutureLearn by the university has been the way our MOOCs have emerged as a vehicle for changing perceptions and ideas of on-campus teaching. Over 25 academic staff, who have made up the course teams developing these MOOCs, have expressed the view that they have found it both developmental and rewarding. Through the development of MOOCs, staff awareness of the potential of online learning has been increased and aspirations have been raised in terms of introducing greater degrees of blended learning for our on-campus provision, quite often utilising the materials created initially for delivery within the MOOC itself.
It would not be an understatement to say that our FutureLearn learners as well as our on-campus students have acted as change agents to inspire a continual re-evaluation of such on-campus provision. This extended presentation will give insight into how in shaping the future of the student learning experience as a partnership, MOOCs have facilitated the changing of perceptions and beliefs surrounding online learning.
House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills (2015). Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. London: The Stationery Office Limited.