Steps are grouped together into activities. Activities are nested within weeks.
Steps are the smallest block of learning. They appear as individual pages within a course.
Our standard step types are article, discussion, video, audio, poll, quiz, and test.
Each step should connect to the other, creating a narrative.
1. Map out your steps within a course outline.
2. Consider carefully how long learners will spend on each step.
This time includes offline learning or reading, commenting, and reading others’ comments. Consider learners who might need more time than others to complete the material (for example dyslexic learners).
3. The minimum number of steps in a week should be 6.
The maximum should be between 20-25 depending on the total learning time. Design week 1 with slightly fewer steps than the other weeks.
4. Prepare short, clear step titles.
They tell the story of the course and should fit the screen for mobile learners.
5. Start your course with a bang.
Step 1.1 is the most important step in the whole course. Make it welcoming and engaging, create a hook to draw learners in. Great steps achieve this by presenting their courses with a strong educator voice using a conversational tone.
View our Example text for a short course Step 1.1. Consider what might be different for your course. Business courses often start with a big question to provoke conversation in the comments, a climate course may put more focus on reassuring learners, recognising that some topics can cause anxiety. The most important thing is that learners know ‘they are in the right place’ and are hooked in and want to click through to step 1.2.
6. Every step should be meaningful.
Every step should be essential to learner progress; even administrative or functional steps. Learners decide when to mark steps as complete. To gain a Certificate of Achievement, a learner has to mark as complete at least 90% of steps and pass every assessment with an overall average of 70%. Adding optional steps disrupts this process.
Uploading resources to Moodle or a traditional LMS/VLE is not the same as creating a step in a FutureLearn course. Learners can read, explain and discuss all in one step. A FutureLearn course is not a collection of slide decks or readings with short instructions.
Design article steps
Article steps should be of a similar length to a typical online news article, with a reading time of 5-10 minutes. Typically 500-800 words work well.
Article steps can be used functionally to explain what is happening in the course, and as a site for core learning case studies, literary extracts, practical tasks, and explanation and exploration of the topic.
They can also be used to outline informal self-assessment tasks, whereby learners are encouraged to reflect upon and consider their own learning progression.
Accessibility - if you’re including physical or off-platform tasks for learners to participate in make sure there is value in the step aside from the task, and that ‘doing’ the task itself is clearly marked as optional.
For example, a step could lay out good practice or things to consider when conducting a science experiment or following a recipe (core learning, accessible and relevant to all) with an additional call to action suggesting trying the recipe or experiment out (optional, non-core learning)
Alternatively provide an equivalent task for those who cannot participate due to a disability or injury, or who cannot access special equipment.
Top tips for article steps
- Focus on a single concept per article step.
- Insert step and/or in-line images (photographs, diagrams, slides, etc) alongside the text to illustrate or enhance the meaning.
- Structure articles carefully. Highlight important words in bold and italics, use bullet points, pull out quotations, include subheadings to break up longer passages. Utilise markdown to edit text. This allows articles to include rich content and complexity while still being manageable.
- Clearly attribute origin/copyright where appropriate.
- Include related calls to action or social prompts to encourage learners to reflect and comment. Follow our editorial guidance on writing instructions.
- Include subheadings similar to ‘top tips’ and ‘further reading’ in some steps. Learners love gaining ‘insider knowledge’ when experts share tips. Adding links and PDFs for further reading allows those learners who want to explore further This is popular with learners.
Design discussion steps
Most FutureLearn steps offer space for comment (at the bottom of article, video, audio, and exercise steps). Instead of adding a call to action to the bottom of one of these step types you may wish to choose a discussion step instead. The choice of discussion step increases the focus on learner contributions
The act of thinking of a response or answer to a question, formulating it, and writing it in the comments box helps to further embed knowledge. Learners also vicariously learn by reading, liking and pinning the ideas and perspectives of their peers. Provoking conversation is one of the four pillars of social learning adopted by FutureLearn.
Learners can see the steps and their step type on the to do list page. Discussion steps break up steps which often centre on content acquisition by offering variety as well as time to comprehend, apply and evaluate what has been provided in previous read, watch, listen / acquisition steps of video, article or audio.
Top tips for discussion steps
- Every week of a course should contain at least one discussion step. See our Social Learning QA criteria.
- Provide some short background information, the issue to discuss, and clear open-ended questions or points to address.
- Explain to learners what they will gain by taking part in the discussion. Model how to share either in the step or a pinned note.
- Set a topic that requires the learner to demonstrate understanding of the immediate previous steps, preferably also drawing on personal experience. If appropriate (for technical courses) switch on markdown in the comments.
- Experiment with other formats, e.g. debate “Argue for or against the proposition that …. Give evidence to back up your argument.”
- Use discussion steps as the site of task-based creation or production and be clear in your instructions. Be sure to explain why a learner is being asked to do something - what will they get out of it. View our example instruction text.
Expectations of facilitating discussion steps
We have top tips for on demand courses - our default course model - that often have little or no facilitation. Questions to provoke conversation, within all steps, require clear instructions and social prompts which do not create the expectation that educators will respond. For example ‘we look forward to reading your ideas’ is misleading. ‘Share your ideas with the learning community’ is clear.
Pinning a note on a discussion step can encourage peer-to-peer discussion. Strong educator ‘voice’ can also ensure that discussion and other steps feel inclusive and welcoming. This is especially important for ExpertTracks which are never facilitated.
Discover the sorts of comments learners are leaving by viewing the facilitation dashboard. You may find that learners are interpreting the questions within a discussion step differently than anticipated. You can update the step in a future run.
Example discussion questions and instructions
- What have your peers mentioned that has caused you to reconsider your response?
- Have your peers mentioned anything that you had not thought of?
- Were your responses similar to your peers? If so, why? If not why not?
- Does your context differ from your peers? How and why do you think this is the case?
Take a minute to introduce yourself and share your thoughts in the comments below in answer to the question: [question relating to the course] Don’t forget to ‘like’ and reply to other learners!
Find out more about best practices in articles and discussions in activities Design your course: from activity to step and Creating FutureLearn steps that shine in How to Create a Great FutureLearn course. Contact your Partnership Manager for access.
Create article and discussion steps following our editorial guidance and then build your steps in Course Creator.
Terminology on this page that you aren’t familiar with? Check out our glossary.