Issue 2: June 2020
The Learning Design Bulletin from FutureLearn is a space for anyone involved in the practicalities of all things learning design, pedagogy, and course build.
This issue's theme is: Pivoting to Online
How can we move from rapid response to planning for the future?
In March 2020 the UK went into lockdown: and the entire FutureLearn Office went home, not knowing when we would be back and working face to face with our colleagues and Partners. All over social media we saw educators reaching out for advice about how to suddenly move to teaching and learning in the midst of a global pandemic. We read articles written to offer support and advice, we heard of frustrations and concerns and worries about accessibility, engagement, and workload, and in doing so, we started to think about how we could help. The request came in: could we make a rapid response course to support educators around the world who find themselves suddenly working online?
In this issue of the Learning Design Bulletin we reflect on what we did, how we did it, what messages we hoped our learners would take away, and how the course was received. We’ll also hear news from the Partnership, and take a peek into what you can expect from the upcoming Festival of Learning.
From Rapid Response to long term planning
What were the lessons we learned from How to Teach Online? Learning Designer Felicity Parsisson reflects on process, product and future plans.
The FutureLearn planning process begins with what we call the Idea Generation phase - a brainstorming session where we captured all the ideas, topics, skills, tasks that might end up in the final course.
In conjunction with this we surveyed FutureLearners who had engaged with teaching courses to gain insight into what they wanted and needed, and our Marketing team supported us through ‘social listening’ - tracking trends and topics that were featuring on social networks.
We spent some time really thinking about who would be interested in the course and how they might engage with it:
|Belief||Course design decision|
|Our learners and their students are dispersed across the world, in a variety of teaching contexts.||Facilitating the creation of a supportive and inspiring Community of Practice will happen throughout the course.|
|Our learners are educators with a wealth of experience, ideas, creative approaches.||Drawing out learner contributions will be prioritised throughout the course.|
|Our learners are not all equipped with an in-house Studio team to support course or materials development.||Everything in the course will be designed and built using the most generally accessible technologies (shared documents, video conferencing, and smartphones).|
|Our learners have different needs and different amounts of time available.||Defining time on task and offering choice will be explicitly stated throughout the course.|
Having identified the above, we agreed on simple, key principles:
Design and build through iteration and building week-to-week
Keep it simple - we’re also teaching in an emergency / practice what we preach
Learner interaction is key (community of practice)
Opportunities for practice and reflection throughout
Agreeing these principles allowed to us to critically evaluate the ideas we had for suitability of inclusion. What follows are four lessons we felt were successful and which we plan to apply to all future course planning.
1. Start small, try it out, iterate
As discussed above, we spent time making sure we had a clear vision for the course, agreeing on its overall objective and who our target learners were. We tried to think of ways to build on what was covered in each week, and encourage our learners to iterate and perhaps try things out by adding to what they’d worked on already.
Throughout the entire process we kept close working relationships between the team, testing and running ideas and work by each other for ‘in-time’ feedback. As a core team of four, we worked in pairs, with each fulfilling the role of the ‘Critical Friend’, and as we went through planning and design we noted ‘nice to haves’ : ideas which were perhaps too ambitious or not suitable for this particular course version, but which could perhaps feed into a future iteration.
Planning for the future
How could you ‘start small’ and iterate in your plan, design and course build?
2. Curate, don’t create: and if you can, collaborate
We are fortunate to work with educators and academics across our partnership who saw the course vision and responded enthusiastically to our requests for input and help.
We sent an email request for contributions to a long list of Partners with some simple questions such as What three key considerations should educators make when moving from face to face to online? and What’s your best time saving tip?
Responses arriving to us in text form meant we omitted the need for transcription, could parse for trends and patterns, and weave into the fabric of the course, either informing the content or appearing as direct quotation. This input was invaluable - it added further validation to FutureLearn’s course voice, added personality and comment from a variety of teaching and learning contexts and saved us time. Many contributors also became Course Mentors, appearing during the course run to support learners and help input into discussions.
We encouraged collaboration during the course itself by asking learners to share their ideas and resources, and we ourselves curated resources we found helpful for our learners, rather than needlessly creating everything from scratch.
Planning for the future
Identifying where you might get input or work with others from early on can make the course creation process less time-consuming and contribute to a rich output with a variety of perspectives and voices. How might you curate your resources? With whom might you collaborate?
3. Put students at the centre of decisions
We knew from previous research that FutureLearners identifying as ‘teachers’ are diverse in the subjects they teach, the age groups or levels they work with, and the institution and context they work in.
We knew we would potentially be alienating many cohorts of learners if we narrowed our focus too sharply, so made the decision to produce a course centred around design approaches which would be adjustable and applicable to the broadest spectrum of teaching and learning contexts possible. Our hope in building a Community of Practice was that learners themselves could connect with peers and share and support with resources.
Because of the speed at which we were working, we were releasing the course week-by-week, writing and building as we went. This meant we could make use of the FutureLearn poll step to gauge areas of interest, and tweak our course plans based on this real-time feedback. We also wanted to make sure we offered flexibility and choice of course tasks to our learners, and accompanied anything productive with timings that supported learners in planning their workload.
Planning for the future
What could you do to put your students at the centre of decisions? What could you start doing today that could feed into your teaching and learning several weeks or months from now?
4. Take time to foster relationships
Planning non-coursework activities and interactions is a way of checking in, injecting fun, and reminding everyone that they’re not working alone. We wanted our course to be simple and without reliance on complicated media - but we felt our educator presence was lacking.
To remedy this when delivering a course at such large scale we decided to include short opening videos at the start of course weeks 2 and 3. These simple videos were screencast during a conference call and rather than being used to deliver content were conceptualised as a space for our personal reflections on course activity and explanations of what was coming up.
We brought the educator presence in further through our active Mentor team who facilitated the course during its run, acting to promote learner-to-learner engagement rather than simply answering questions or being positioned as the ‘source of truth’.
Innovative ideas to foster relationships suggested by course participants in How to Teach Online include weekly social hours on Zoom, sending quizzes by email, or running photo competitions in Whatsapp.
Planning for the future
What could you do to foster relationships between yourself and your students, and to support their peer-to-peer relationships?
Examples we love: Open University microcredential spotlight
Rebecca Ferguson from the Open University tells us about Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners.
This new microcredential, developed with fellow Open University Lead Educators Leigh Anne Perryman and Martin Weller began on June 8 and will be starting again in October this year.
We’re living in unprecedented times, with every aspect of society affected by the pandemic. Education is no exception. In May 2020, UNESCO reported over 91% of the world’s student population had been affected by the closure of educational institutions. Many institutions have had to rush their teaching online, and there has been an urgent need for training in how to do this.
The new microcredential from The Open University – Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners – was created as a response to this need. The OU has substantial expertise in this area; it has been teaching at a distance for over 50 years and teaching fully online courses for more than 20. The microcredential, worth 15 credits at UK postgraduate level, is endorsed by the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT).
The conversational learning that is a key part of FutureLearn is central to the course and gives students plenty of opportunities to connect with and learn from their fellow learners. They’ve already begun to do this – in the first week alone, students contributed over 150,000 words to the discussion. This level of engagement makes it possible to build collections of experience and resources from all over the world.
The microcredential covers multiple adult education sectors and subject areas, and diverse cultural and national contexts. It has a single focus – developing teaching, learning and assessment strategies that meet learners’ needs and are equitable, engaging and accessible.
If you’d like to explore these issues yourself, registration for the second presentation in October is open now - for more information, follow the link above.
Data and Insights
How can completion rates influence Learning Design?
Head of Learning Matt Jenner takes a look at our course data.
If you’ve read anything about MOOCs then you’ve also read about completion rates. There is a flawed logic that 100% course completion should be the core goal for any learner, and when the level of course completion was as low as 3-5% it became a central point of critique for MOOCs everywhere (online courses) and their effectiveness.
While this may, or may not, be important; it’s still one of those lingering issues. We think there is a better conversation to be had:
Can we turn completion into a learning design feature?
If during the design phase you plan for learners to leave the course, or more accurately, take what they need, then you will be designing more accurately towards your target audience. During the design phase for How to Teach Online we thought about our target audience; teachers rapidly moving to emergency remote teaching, and what they would value from our course.
One thing became clear - they would be time poor and in need of quick help. Due to heavy workloads and competing priorities it was likely many learners would not be aiming to complete the entire course.
Here are two small things we explored to help design for these learners:
1. Adding Peer Review to solidify learning outcomes: but also surfacing in-built advice which reassured learners who planned to ‘skip’ over this activity.
2. Adding ‘time saving tips’ to the course emails - to show what can be done if they only have 10, 20 or 30 minutes, thereby helping them to plan and balance their workload.
We didn’t run an A/B test to compare - but we can see some impact when looking at ‘step completion’ in the course. This helps show the impact of the peer review and time saving tips:
The Peer Review activity will always have a slight drop in activity: not all learners want to engage with the task and forcing it doesn’t help. However the thing to note is how the blue line (step completions) remains steady afterwards. Other courses achieve this too -it’s not unique, but it was intentionally designed, we wanted learners who skipped it to know this was ok - and that skipping it didn’t mean they should drop out of the course altogether!
Completions always decline through a course, it’s normal, but any slowdown or rise shows there was value in that step. The ‘10 minutes’ markers don’t always show a difference, however in step 1.7 (the first from the left) we can see a slower fall of completions - a good thing. The second 10 minute step (step 2.2) shows a small uptick in completions. The final one didn’t make a difference - but that’s ok.
It is a designer’s instinct to build for the user - we knew ours would be busy. We designed around this and had it in our minds as we debated the contents of the course. Completion rates are not the panacea of online learning but if we had a space to be proud of this course we can share that over 18% of all enrolments went on to complete this course, which is a lot higher than 3-5%.
FutureLearn Festival of Learning 20 -26 June
Our first ever virtual event to celebrate the role of educators and learners worldwide and discuss the future of education.
We’re delighted to announce our first ever virtual event, FutureLearn’s Festival of Learning, to celebrate the role of educators and learners worldwide and discuss the future of education.
With keynotes, panels, and masterclasses from experts at FutureLearn and leading universities and organisations across the globe, we will be looking at how education, healthcare and business will evolve post COVID-19 and how we can all collaborate to achieve great things in the wake of upheaval.
Speakers include Sherry Coutu CBE, Patricia Davidson, plus representatives from healthcare, business and teaching including London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Visa, Chartered College of Teaching and more.
The Learning Design Masterclass focuses on our approach to planning and designing courses, and is open to all. You’ll even have the chance to enter a competition to win a year’s FutureLearn Unlimited subscription. We hope to see you there!
For further information and to register for free: https://bit.ly/37wju7F
Next Issue’s Focus
The third issue of the Learning Design Bulletin will be appearing in September 2020 on the topic of work and industry -based pedagogies. We’ll be considering how we can design courses which bring together the key ‘trinity’ of employers/industry, learners, and education organisations, and explore work-based learning.
Got something to contribute, a course that shines, or a question or idea?
Please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org