This is an overview of every type of learning step available on the FutureLearn platform.
It explains the pedagogy that underlies each step, tips on how to make them work best in your course and links to great examples of the steps working well on previous FutureLearn courses. Steps are always within activities (groups of steps) so you may also want to consider how steps will be linked or grouped throughout the week.
Article steps are any plain text, typically 500-800 words with a reading time of 5-10 minutes. These might be case studies, literary extracts, instructions from educators or short essays.
Articles can include images (photographs, diagrams, slides etc).
Text provides a compact way to express the deep meaning of a topic. A learner can skim, read, re-read and summarise the text.
Tips to make a great step
Design for learners with English as an additional language: eg simplified vocabulary, active voice.
Design instructional text: clear text structure, summary of key points. Meyer (1985) classified the main text structures as follows:
Description: describe a topic.
Sequence: use numerical or chronological order to list items or events.
Compare/contrast: two or more similar events, topics, or objects.
Cause/effect: give one or more causes and then describe the effects.
Problem/solution: pose a problem or question and then give the answer.
Meyer, B. J. F. (1985). Signaling the Structure of Text. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), The Technology of Text (pp. 64-89). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology.
Use images alongside the text to illustrate or enhance the meaning.
Mark the text structure with paragraphs and emphasis.
An example of a text before and after re-structuring
Meyer, B. J. F. (1999). Importance of Text Structure in Everyday Reading. In A. Ram & K. Moorman (eds.) Understanding Language
Understanding. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 227-252.
A will can involve lengthy probate court time and costs to distribute your property to your heirs after your death while court proceedings to on, your survivors and heirs cannot enjoy the property in the will. Also this involves paying gift and estate taxes.
A trust is a good alternative. A trust bypasses court time and costs. When you form a trust for a property, you have legal ownership. You may designate a beneficiary for what is called beneficial ownership. The trust is managed by a trustee, and entity like a bank, in accordance with the will of you, the trustor.
The problem is how to distribute your property as you wish after death, while avoiding the costs of probate courts. If you die intestate (without a will), court delays and management, along with equitable inheritance laws, can be obstacles to your chosen beneficiaries enjoying your estate. Wills to distribute property after death have drawbacks, such as probate court costs or delays.
One solution is to place your property in trust. Trusts completely avoid probate courts, with their costs and delays. U.S. gift and inheritance taxes are also avoided. Using a trust with a revocable will, you can control your property after your death.
How do trusts do this? The property in question, called the corpus, is placed by you the trustor in care of the trustee, e.g. your bank.
Learners can add their comments to any FutureLearn step. Discussion steps differ in that educators actively encourage learners to respond to specific questions prompted by previous steps.
Why it works
Discussions in FutureLearn are based on two foundations: of learning through conversation with knowledgeable peers (Vygotsky, 1978), and writing-to-learn through knowledge building (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987).
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The Psychology of Written Composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Tips to make a great step
Keep the discussion topic short, eg three sentences: Background, issue, question.
Set a topic that requires the learner to demonstrate understanding of the immediately previous steps, preferably also drawing on personal experience.
End with an open-ended question that elicits a range of answers.
Experiment with other formats, eg debate “Argue for or against the proposition that …. Give evidence to back up your argument.”
“Social divisions exist in all societies. Discuss the types of social division that exist in society and give examples from your own experience. Why do certain types of division appear to create more conflict than others?”
Multiple choice quiz
Quiz steps should be viewed as formative assessment, to help learners self-assess their progress and discover gaps in their knowledge. Quizzes are not scored.
They require a title and short description, but no image. Once you’ve created the step, questions are added one by one. The two types of question are both multiple choice – either multiple answers or single correct answer. The single answer type allows you to add hints (referring to previous steps in the course) and feedback.
An MCQ can be a compact way of testing understanding of the recent material, correcting misconceptions, and sending the learner back to review misunderstood material.
Tips to make a great step
Effective MCQs provide value through every possible outcome. This requires distractors (incorrect answers) to be thoughtful, appropriate and formative. For example, consider the following question:
What is 1+2×3?
A learner answering a) suggests that they understand the computation, but don’t understand the order of operations (that multiplication should happen first), b) understands both the computation and the reasoning behind it, c) would suggest the learner was confused and summed the numbers. This example allows for meaningful, formative feedback to be provided for each possible response.
Distractors should not stand out, and the correct answer should not be obviously different in either written quality, length, or structure.
Explore different methods of MCQ, e.g. Assertion-Reason questions for testing causal knowlege. In these, you give an assertion followed by a reason, and ask for the correct selection, e.g.:
“Increased government spending increases inflation under all conditions BECAUSE government spending is not offset by any form of production.
a) Assertion and reason are both correct.
b) Assertion is correct but reason is wrong
c) Assertion is wrong but reason is correct
d) Assertion and reason are both wrong.”
Multiple choice test
Test steps should be viewed as summative assessment.
The test step is very similar to the Quiz, enabling multiple choice questions, with either multiple answers or a single correct answer. The learner may take 3 attempts to answer each question. Each question has 3 points available, losing a point each time they make an incorrect response.
Completion of all tests on a course is required for upgraded learners to claim a Certificate of Achievement. Upgraded learners need to score 70% in order to claim their Certificate of Achievement.
Bontis, Hardie & Serenko (2009) compared a case study, a multiple choice test (MCT), a simulation of a real world problem requiring demonstrated problem solving skills, and multiple opportunities to interact, collaborate and participate in learning activities. They found that the MCT was the strongest predictor of overall performance (followed by case exam, and participation). They suggest that learners are familiar with the format of MCTs, they are more inclined to accept the results, and they provide rapid feedback of score with lowest labour and cost. However, MCTs only form part of an assessment system. They test accretion of knowledge, not performance of skills, deep understanding, or ability to synthesise knowledge and create solutions.
Bontis, N., Hardie, T., & Serenko, A. (2009). Techniques for assessing skills and knowledge in a business strategy classroom. International Journal of Teaching and Case Studies, 2, 2, 162-180.
Tips to make a great step
See the tips above for Multiple Choice Quizzes
Each question in the test should be at a similar level of difficulty.
Use analytics from learner performance on the course to improve the test for the next run of the course by identifying and changing questions that are particularly easy or difficult, and distractors that are rarely selected.
Video & audio
Videos are uploaded in .mov or .mp4 format. Each video step has a title and short description (up to 150 characters). A longer description can be added if required.
When creating video for FutureLearn, you also need to generate a transcript of the audio and an .vtt file to produce subtitles.
Videos might be straight-to-camera pieces by educators, interviews, panel discussions, slideshows, clips of existing media or a combination of all of the above.
Similarly sound recordings can be uploaded as MP3 files.
Video has value in: introducing a topic; presenting the educator and motivating the learner; showing complex dynamic processes or rich visual scenes; explaining causal or time-ordered processes. Using visual information as an additional channel can aid the retention of verbal information (Mayer & Anderson, 1991).
Mayer (2001) describes principles of learning that are relevant to learning through video:
- multimedia principle: learning is improved using words and pictures in preference to words alone;
- contiguity principle: learning is improved when pictures and related words are presented at the same time or next to each other on the screen;
- modality principle: spoken words are better than printed text for explaining images;
- signaling principle: learning material should be organised with clear outlines and headings;
- personalisation principle: a conversational style is better than a formal style for learning.
Mayer, R. (2001). Multimedia learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mayer, R. & Anderson, R. (1991) Animations need narrations: an experimental test of dual coding hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 4, 484-490.
Tips to make a great step
Keep the video short – under ten minutes
Structure the material, and provide an introduction and summary.
Organise the video so that the learner can pause and reflect, for example when presenting a diagram suggest that the learner pause the video to read and understand it.
Make sure the audio quality is excellent.
Polling allows the entire cohort to respond to a single multiple choice question displayed directly inside a single FutureLearn step. The question should be linked to the activity, week or the whole course. After learners have chosen their response they are shown the results of all responses collected using a histogram / bar chart.
There are many ways to provoke conversation and polls add one more way learners can have a stimulated and meaningful discussion. They also provide a level of visibility on the collective thinking within the cohort, while also remaining anonymous in their own. Learners are encouraged to reflect on the poll question, their response and the overall results but they do not have to state which answer they chose.
Tips to make a great step
Below are a selection of effective ways polls can be used to promote learning in a course:
- Concepts – answers and distractors are based on common misconceptions. This helps provide a stimulus for peer discussion where learners are encouraged to comment their own conceptual understanding of the question or the other responses.
- Application – questions provide a situation or task where prior learning is applied to a real situation or context.
- Critical thinking – where more than one answer is correct and learners are asked to analyse and evaluate their prior learning and to engage in discussion around their chosen response.
- Learner perspectives – where there is no correct answer. Learners can share views, opinions or experiences on their perspectives around the topic.
- Debate – learners can choose a particular side/angle/issue (such as legal, ethical or moral) and use their choice within comments for a debate. The poll adds value by showing the distribution of perspectives in the results.
- Peer learning – learners chose an answer response to a question. On review of all responses the resulting discussion encourages peer dialogue around the topic / concept – with no direct response from the educator. Learners are then shown an identical poll which typically shows measurable shifting towards the correct answer.
- Change over time – similar to peer learning – multiple identical polls can be used to ask the same question pre/post a learning activity (or segment of course). This shows how learners choices change as they learn and engage with other’s perspectives.
- Recollection – learners are challenged to recite facts, concepts, approaches or techniques which, at best, can promote student memory. This isn’t optimal and may barely promote discussion. We’re not advocating recollection as an effective polling method.
The exercise step on FutureLearn allows externally-hosted content to be framed within a FutureLearn wrapper. For instance, if you have an interactive HTML5 exercise hosted on your own server, the exercise step allows you to present it as part of your course in a way which is consistent with the FutureLearn user experience and means learners do not need to leave the platform.
Examples of usage:
Virtual Microscope: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/discover-dentistry/steps/8612/
Interactive timeline: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/identity-conflict-and-public-space/3/steps/41646
Interactive mapping: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall/4/steps/93215
- We welcome discussion with partners about the use of this step and are keen to see experimentation with different uses. However, framing externally hosted content is complex and requires additional effort from our product development team each time, so we may reject some proposals to use the step if there is not a strong enough justification or sufficient time for us to carry out full quality assurance checks.
- These steps can be difficult for quality assurance purposes – third party platforms are not always accessible. Please speak to your Course Development Manager in the first instance before building anything on your own site.
Exercise step content criteria
We will review partners’ proposals to use the exercise step against the following criteria.
An exercise MUST:
- deliver essential content which is core to the learning outcomes of the course, and must therefore be presented within FL platform;
- only be used if there is no alternative means of presenting the content using existing FL features to meet the same learning outcome
- be fully accessible on mobile and tablet devices (see technical standards below). In exceptional circumstances, where the content is not well suited to mobile devices or it is impossible to meet accessibility standards or support a certain browser/device, FL will ask you to insert an advisory message to mobile users
- represent significant added value for learners which repays the development effort required of the partner and FutureLearn
An exercise SHOULD:
- be an immersive formative experience; it should help users ‘explore’ a concept or topic in some depth
- require learners to dwell longer on the page than they might on other FL step types
- contain minimal internal navigation links; any navigation within the exercise itself should be presented in such a way that it cannot be confused with the main FL step navigation
An exercise MUST NOT:
- be used for summative assessment, as engagement data (e.g. a learner’s score) cannot be written back to the FL application at present
- replicate the functionality of an existing feature, or a feature already planned on the FutureLearn roadmap
- contain any partner branding within the exercise frame
- collect any personal information which could be used to identify learners; it must not collect any personal data which the learner has already provided on their FutureLearn profile. Before building an exercise which collects personal information, please speak to your Course Development Manager. In all cases, the learner must be told how their data will be used.
- require the learner to register or sign-in
- feature any links which take the learner out of the exercise step to leave the FL domain
- be used to embed third party media which you do not have the rights to reproduce within FL
Technical specification for exercise steps
Before starting to build any web-based content which you intend to present on FutureLearn using this step, please consult your Course Development Manager, and familiarise yourself with the technical specification for the exercise step.