Saturday, December 14, 2013


Having nearly completed the Web Science MOOC on FutureLearn I thought that it would be worthwhile passing some comments.  In this post I will comment on FutureLearn itself, and later I will comment on the Web Science course.

FutureLearn is not dissimilar to other MOOCs, it works smoothly and well in general, though they do seem to be using rapid development (or perpetual beta) as the delivery method with the result that some things do change as you go along (the ones I noticed seemed to alter where the discussion appeared).

As yet, and I accept that this is fairly early there don't appear to be any particularly interesting or novel features in the MOOC.  You register, choose the course and do it in a very linear fashion.

I like the clean, clear design which keeps unnecessary clutter out of the way, and that it works pretty well on my phone as well as on the PC.  I also like that there are discussions for each page, on that page so that the topic and the discussion are closely related to each other; although that does tend to discourage discussions which bridge topics (which topic should you post them against?).

However, I think that it has a long way to go before it becomes a really useful learning platform.  I suspect that many of the things that I am going to discuss are already under development, but here is my pennyworth of things for improvement.

The way that the system works is very linear, not encouraging returning to topics covered or relating to them to each other.  To me this is exemplified by having mark as complete for each section, the implication being that there is no need to return to this section.  I think this is particularly unfortunate as it discourages returning to discussions.

The week is broken down into bite sized chunks (or on this course in some cases nibbles), but there is no easy way of seeing where you are in the course (eg a progress bar along the top or bottom of the page).  Of course, I appreciate that could end up being part of the clutter that FutureLearn enjoys, but it could at least be an option.

My biggest problem is with the discussion tool itself, which discourages discussion rather than post and forget.  posts are not grouped or tagged in any way so that there can be a long list of postings which are either in reverse order of posting or just the most "liked" postings.  The result is that there is very little engagement with the discussion, with people making postings and moving on.  I haven't counted but I doubt that more than a tenth of postings have any comment against them.  Even if you do engage in an actual discussion there doesn't appear to be any form of push technology to tell you that someone has replied to your posting, so that you have to wander through all your postings to find out if someone has replied to them.  Yes, you can see all your postings for all courses on your profile page, but no way of knowing if anyone has responded and hence engaging in discussion.

There is also nothing to help build up a sense of community.  Other MOOCs that I have participated in have been very strong on community building, encouraging the use of other tools such as blogs and tweeting to support each other and share learning, but while one could invent a #tag for the course there is nothing in the course to support this (eg having the #tag listed on each page).

Finally, at the moment it seems to be rather feature poor.  As used in this course there is text, embedded video, links, appended documents, multiple choice questions and the "discussion forum" and that is about it.

I look forward to seeing some of the features as they are added.

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