Skip to content


FLAN meeting in UPF Barcelona

The theme: educator experience

The 11th FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) meeting was held in Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona. UPF has been a FutureLearn partner since 2015, and as for January 2017 it contributes to the platform portfolio with five MOOCs. Drs. Manel Jiménez (director of the Center for Learning Innovation & Knowledge) and Davinia Hernández-Leo (head of the Interactive Technologies group) hosted a one-day event in which the main theme was social learning and the educator experience. The hashtag was #BarcelonaFLAN.

Full house in FLAN Barcelona
Full house in FLAN Barcelona

The event registered high attendance, with representation from several FL partners, especially Southampton (seven of us!), the OU, and the British council.

The University of Edinburgh’s strategy

The University of Edinburgh’s (UE) VC Prof. Tim O’Shea delivered the first presentation, with a description of UE’s MOOC strategy. Tim explained how MOOCs fit within their so-called “educational portfolio with technology” vision and evolution. In the two images below, such evolution is visualised, showing how open education and use of technology will expand, with MOOCs having a central role from around 15 in 2013 to a target of 100 in 2025:

UEd strategy 2025
University of Edinburgh’s MOOC strategy 2013-2025

This evolution was explained with ecological metaphors, whereby MOOCs can survive by become relevant bigger educational products such as Honours or Masters degrees through aggregation, e.g. a Masters degree would equate to 25 MOOCs.

Nic and Lisa: embedding MOOCs in campus modules

A presentation from Southampton followed. Nic Fair and Lisa Harris shared their experience on integrating MOOCs in an on-campus module. They provided compelling suggestions on how to add value to the modules through the inclusion of the on-campus students in the MOOC learning communities, as an effective way of enhancing their personal learning networks.

Nic and Lisa
Nic and Lisa

Rebecca Ferguson: a report on FutureLearn partners research

Rebecca Fergusson (OU) presented after that. She shared a report of the research carried out by FutureLearn partners around MOOCs. The report highlights eight priority areas:

  1. Develop a strategic approach to learning at scale.
  2. Develop appropriate pedagogy for learning at scale.
  3. Identify and share effective learning designs.
  4. Support discussion more effectively.
  5. Clarify learner expectations.
  6. Develop educator teams.
  7. Widen access.
  8. Develop new approaches to assessment and accreditation

A research question was generated from each of these eight priority areas. Southampton can make a significant contribution in all these areas, but there are three that can be highlighted as being areas in which Southampton can make a significant and genuine contribution:

  • FutureLearn supports conversational learning. How can this best be implemented?
  • What are the best ways of teaching at scale and of training MOOC educators?
  • How can we increase MOOC accessibility and widen access to learning at scale?

A highlight of this report is that the University of Southampton has been identified as the most prolific FL partner institution in terms of MOOC research, of course after the Open University.

PhD researchers: the FLAN essence

The ensemble contributions fromthe PhD students researching in FL partner universities are perhaps the most valuable asset of this academic network. In this occassion, researchers from the Open University and Universitat Pompeu fabra presented their research projects. They were all highly relevant and interesting, but I would like to highlight two of them: 1. Tina Papathoma’s work on how educators learn by being involved in MOOCs, and 2. Shi Min Chua’s contribution on the analysis of conversations in FL forums. A paper based on her research will be published in the proceedings of the FutureLearn Data workshop in the Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference in Vancouver, March 2017.

PhD researchers panel
PhD researchers panel from left to right: Kalpani Manathunga (UPF),Ishari Amarasinghe (UPF), Shi Min Chua (OU), Tina Papathoma(OU)

Other contributions and closing remarks

There were many other interesting contributions, such as the Skype session run by Mike Sharples with Ester Oliveras (UPF), Sarah Cornelius (University of Aberdeen), Sarah Speight (Nottingham), Pierre Binetruy (Paris Diderot). One of the discussions to be highlighted in that session, started by Sarah Corelius was around identified need for tools to capture and manage the most relevant comments in FutureLearn courses discussion boards so that mentors can provide optimal support to learners.

The session was not only academically very interesting, but also very fruitful: a potential collaboration with the UPF may arise from that visit, around the effects of MOOCs in universities.

We finally would like to thank Manel and Davinia for their hospitality. After the session, they offered us a tour around the facilitites of the UPF, which we gladly accepted. The only drawback was that we ended up being a bit jealous of their amazing resources for media production.


Recently Participated in ICKM 2015

One of MOOC Observatory members , Ayse Saliha Sunar, participated in the 11th International Conference on Knowledge Management in Osaka. It was a valuable opportunity to see different perspectives of many researchers participated from different countries coming from Austria, Australia, China, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Turkey, UK and US.

She presented her recent analysis on learners’ recurrent interactions in a FutureLearn MOOC’s online discussions. It is shown by many researchers that MOOCs have usually funnel-pattern participation, which means the number of participant in the course as well as in online discussions are decreasing. Ayse shows that this is even lower in the number of recurrent interactions. However, she said that that recurrent interactions have a pattern. A peer usually interacts several times in the same week or consequitive weeks. She concluded that this result could help us predicting learners participation and intervene their activities on MOOCs. She received numbers of beneficial feedbacks on her research from the participants.


Her presentation is available on Slideshare.