Short courses

‘Big quit’ shift to short courses boosts FutureLearn outlook

The growing number of young people signing up with the UK’s leading online higher education provider in the wake of the pandemic suggests it can successfully meet the challenge of America’s biggest rivals, according to its new chief executive. .

Andy Hancock became chief executive of FutureLearn in October, joining the Open University-founded platform from price comparison website Moneysupermarket.com, where he was chief operating officer.

He said he was encouraged by FutureLearn’s popularity with young learners, many of whom were looking to retrain for new jobs post-pandemic in what has been called the “Great Resignation”.

“The increased adoption by young learners has been a real benefit for us,” he said. Times Higher Education. “The big resignation will subside, but clearly the days of doing the same career for 30 years are over – we will certainly have a part to play as people start to retrain and upskill. “

FutureLearn has created over 1,000 online courses and 18 million learners since its launch in 2012.

With US platforms Coursera, edX and Udacity offering more courses and more financial muscle than FutureLearn, some have wondered if the UK operator will thrive in the long term, despite securing £50m in funding in 2019 when Australian education provider SEEK Group bought a 50 percent stake. In a similar situation to its rivals, its rapidly growing number of users (up from 8 million in 2017-18) has yet to translate into profits, as its latest annual accounts show. lost £13.2m in 2019–20, down from a loss of £6.6 million the previous year.

But Mr Hancock said: “We have compelling USPs – being the easiest platform to use, for learners and partners, and our socially engaged learning… There are four major price comparison platforms and there’s room for them all to work – it’s all about having a clear and compelling proposition.

To capitalize on FutureLearn’s appeal, it wants to enable its 250 course partners – including the universities of Cambridge, Glasgow and Leeds in the UK, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University in the US , and Deakin University in Australia – to add content.

The integration of emerging technologies and better use of learning data to improve the student experience and the construction of its microcredit offer, in which short courses can be stacked into more substantial certificates, will also be important. , he added. “It seems quite nascent here in the UK – it’s much more advanced in Australia but I think there’s a lot of opportunity here,” he said.

Indeed, the returns could be huge, with a recent To analyse suggesting the ed-tech sector could be worth up to $605bn (£444bn) by 2026, up from $254bn last year. That said, some of the biggest players have faced steep declines in recent months, with the shares of edX owner 2U fall of more than 40% in a single day this month following an unfavorable earnings report, and down more than 80% in the past 12 months.

Currently, Mr Hancock said he is more focused on ensuring FutureLearn provides the best possible experience for students, building on already high levels of satisfaction.

This concentration will mean that users will come back to take other courses throughout their lives, he argued. “I’m motivated by people who say, ‘I had a great learning experience – what next?’ I’m not so worried about what our competitors are doing as long as we are successful on our own.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com