Learning design is a systematic approach to designing and planning good courses. Great courses utilise evidence and successful learning theory and practice.
No educational technology is 'pedagogy neutral' – they all have built-in educational structures. FutureLearn is no exception. We have an opinion on what we think makes rich, compelling, and successful online educational content. The DNA of the FutureLearn platform - Course Creator - is guided by our four pillars of social learning (see below).
Six top tips for learning design
1) Familiarise yourself with FutureLearn course terminology
FutureLearn courses are structured into weeks, activities and steps not, units and modules. We have educators, not instructors; and learners, not students. The platform supports comment and discussion, not forums. Refer to our glossary.
2) Take the time to carefully plan
Consider and optimise all the elements of the learner experience. Before you build, submit a course outline to FutureLearn Learning Designers for review. Start with active learning outcomes, exploring a range of learning types.
3) Consider who your learners are
This will help you calculate realistic learning hours - the time it takes to complete the course. Consider learners who might need more time than others to complete the material (for example dyslexic learners, see links below).
4) Produce accessible content from the start
Accessibility is not an additional consideration. Read about FutureLearns commitment to accessible learning. Guidance is spread throughout the design and build pages of this site. Prepare by reading the accessibility-themed QA criteria.
5) Submit exercise steps and external tools early for additional QA
Embedding an external tool or exercise step into your course must first pass a technical and accessibility QA. Ask yourself why you want it - is there another, simpler, more accessible option?
6) Decide if your course will have periods of active facilitation
We call these facilitation windows. They can be promoted on the Course Description Page (CDP). Our default course model is on demand, with little or no facilitation. These courses require clear instructions and social prompts, pinned notes, and a strong educator ‘voice’.
Our four pillars of social learning
Ask yourself: “What is the story of this course?”
Storytelling can take various forms.
- Encourage learners to connect aspects of their experience with course content.
- Write the course with strong educator ‘voice’ modelling how to share personal stories.
- Include cliffhangers.
- Provide fictional and real-world scenarios.
- Prompt learners to explore case studies.
- Consider the beginning, middle, and end of your course. Where did learners begin and where will they end?
- Encourage learners to work together to discuss problems embedded within stories.
Every step in a course should be linked with those previous and those further ahead. This signposting helps to develop a narrative and allows learners to see where they’ve come from and where they’re going.
Even courses that are less narrative-reliant (eg technical courses, code-alongs) can still be enhanced by including aspects of storytelling.
Be sure that the educators named within the course, who ‘provide’ quiz and test feedback, who appear on the Course Description Page and/or the course certificate have complete educator profiles with photo and bio. Their presence adds to the story of the course.
Find out more about great storytelling in Week 1 of How to Create a Great FutureLearn course. Contact your Partnership Manager for access.
Designing for conversation
Learning is a continuing conversation, with oneself (as we try to interpret and reconcile pieces of knowledge), with teachers, and with peers.
FutureLearn’s approach to provoking conversation
- Every article, video, audio, and exercise step allows for free-flowing discussion in the comments.
- Comments on FutureLearn are not Moodle forums. Comments model chats around a water-cooler, designed to be informal, easy to enter, and with a simple choice to read, reply, follow, like, or contribute.
- Steps should include ‘calls to action’ or questions to prompt learners to engage more deeply. Rather than simply presenting information or content.
- Not all learners join the conversation, but they vicariously learn by reading others’ interpretations and ideas.
We want to encourage learners to comment but it isn't compulsory. Pedagogically learners embed knowledge through social learning in various ways:
- vicarious learning: learners browse comments and filter by ‘most liked’
- knowledge telling: learner make quick, easy contributions to the rolling set of comments and replies
- knowledge transforming: learners reflect on learning, share perspectives, and reach a shared understanding.
How to provoke conversation
- Ask learners to summarise the key points from a video, or to offer their own perspective on an issue.
- Model how to share ideas, before encouraging learners to do the same.
- Create clear calls to action which elicit more than just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. Learners need to know what they should contribute, and what they will gain from doing so.
- Include opportunities for reflection.
- Centre your course and learner comments around a big question(s).
Capture the essence of the course and provide a focal point. Allow conversation that reaches out to broad concepts, ideas, and knowledge. Push learners to consider what they might need to learn. Develop the course so the learners reconsider their answer to the question from start to finish. Include the big question in your first-course email to entice learners to participate. See What’s the Big Question? in How to Create a Great FutureLearn Course.
- Discussion steps are available for more conceptual and holistic conversation. Learners can spend a bit more time producing, exploring, or sharing what they have created.
- Stuck for ideas? Choose from our selection of ready-made social prompts.
Ask yourself “What skills will learners explicitly or implicitly practice, develop, demonstrate, and showcase during this course?”
Skill development is meaningful and valuable to learners. Learners can explore and apply the new things they are learning in the safety of a course before applying them in the workplace or another environment beyond the course.
To make this visible identify explicit learning outcomes at the start of course development. Include and repeat these learning outcomes within the course to focus learners on their progress.
Consider the learner journey of skills development within your course. Make sure there is sufficient opportunity to practice. Provide guidance about how many attempts learners will get to try something, where will they start, what will they practice and what will they ultimately achieve.
Steps that focus on skills development may include:
- videos including demonstration, observation of experts or peers or animation and graphics – showcasing a process or technique
- walk-throughs and tutorials – focusing on one skill and leading-learners through it step-by-step
- simulators – perhaps using relevant software
- logbooks - requesting that learners note their progress over time
- discussion steps instructing learners to reflect on their practice, sharing and showcasing their learning
- quizzes with feedback - checking understanding and application
Great course design explicitly celebrates learner progress.
Course Creator - the FutureLearn platform - has built-in ways to celebrate progress
- Learners take the action of marking steps as complete when they have reviewed the content and engaged with the discussion to their comfort level.
- This small-scale celebration of progress builds up to the overall completion of the course.
- Learners can view a simple dashboard within a course. These four tabs illustrate personal progress – To do, Activity, Replies, and Progress.
How you can design your course to include celebrating progress:
- repeat and reflect on the course learning outcomes at the start and end of weeks
- design every step to be meaningful, even those that are administrative - they count towards ‘completion’
- design quizzes and tests to check learner’s understanding - avoiding flawed questions
- include discussion steps - learners can reflect on what they have learned, be encouraged by others, and demonstrate mastery of complex ideas through conversation.
Quote from a learner
"I am delighted to have the opportunity to develop myself professionally through your platform. I am a teacher and mother of a one-year-old boy. Thus, I feel very grateful to you for enabling us to learn new skills and enhance our current practices in spite of having little time available to do that. Thank you so much for your wonderful learning system!"
A FutureLearn post-course survey comment, 2018
Simulation of how dyslexia can affect reading online
Step 1.7 from the University of Southampton’s course Digital Accessibility
Content on this page relates to all course design, see also specific learning design for ExpertTracks, Microcredentials, and Degrees.
Terminology on this page that you aren’t familiar with? Check out our glossary.
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