FutureLearn: 6 Ways Universities can Capitalise on the UK's Entry into Global Online Education

ByAnonymous (not verified) on Sep 18, 2013 / Comments

FutureLearn, the first UK-led provider of massive, open, online courses (MOOCs), today unveiled its first set of courses from leading UK and international universities. Ve Interactive’s education specialist Stephen Green explains how universities can profit from a campaign, in the words of Simon Nelson, “designed 100% for students”.

Climbing to regard across the pond by offering accessible, affordable and engaging education to anyone with the sufficient ambition, MOOCs have today hit the UK with the Open University backed FutureLearn revealing their first batch of free non-accredited online
courses.

What is FutureLearn?

The goal is a simple one. To enable people worldwide to enjoy learning through top quality, free online albeit non-accredited courses. New UK company FutureLearn appear to be perfectly positioned to do so, linking the Open University’s forty years of expertise in distance and open learning with the best of the social web.

Twenty-three top level universities have already signed up, and with no cost or prior qualifications required, the benefits for students are clear – but what is in it for the institutions? This was the hot topic at a roundtable set up by Ken Punter at this year’s CASE conference in Manchester, as well as causing much debate across the sector.

University Benefits?

A clear take-away from this debate is that many UK Universities are joining FutureLearn out of concern. Vice Chancellors want to be seen as progressive, especially against the backdrop of an increasingly competitive and global higher education market, and don’t want to be left behind.

When American site Coursera (set up by Stanford academics) was launched sixteen months ago, the primary benefit for universities was in the vast amounts of data gathered on how students interact with course material, giving valuable insight on how people learned online.

However, in this case, there are more direct benefits of participation, for those educational institutions seizing the opportunity…

1) Increased International Visibility

Firstly, the courses featured are available globally, so just through membership your university is opened up a larger international student base. Secondly, the FutureLearn campaign has a well-oiled advertising machine behind it, which serves to raise the programme’s, and by proxy, the universities’ reputations.

The marketing and PR expertise is there for all to see in their vast smorgasbord of multi-media promotional materials. Any association with “brand FutureLearn” will shine the spotlight in your direction, putting the university on more potential students’ radars around the world.

2) Modernising Reputation

No matter how detailed your prospectus is or how reflective your open-days are, the only way to properly assess the value of a course is through participation. Therefore, pending a rewarding experience through the platform, MOOC students would be more tempted to go full-fat by enrolling in one of the university’s fee-paying courses. In terms of reputation, this should serve as good motivation for educational institutions to put their most attention-grabbing and innovative courses forward.

3) Tap into the Social Society

Additionally, the potential word of mouth has to play is enormous. Its value is beyond debate, and in today’s sharing society, it’s never been easier for a positive endorsement to reach so many. By entering into this campaign and providing a quality learning experience, you could potentially create a myriad of brand ambassadors for your university, all promoting your courses over social media.

It’s up to you to nurture this interest from what are potential leads and encourage them to find out more about the university’s other courses – making well-managed social media presence vital.

4) Turning Traffic into Tuition

Increasing visibility, galvanising reputation and frequent social interaction are all necessary means to the one end – boosting website traffic. But traffic alone won’t yield more sign-ups, so it’s crucial that university websites develop visitors’ interest and keep them engaged.

As a result of the uplift in publicity through FutureLearn, more people will be searching for your university. To capitalise on this increased search volume, I recommend building a separate landing page for MOOC students. This landing page should feature targeted navigation to course pages, both Undergraduate and Post Graduate, advice on enrolment, and upcoming open days.

Also giving visitors an opportunity to sign up to your mailing list will keep them informed while helping the university keep potential leads warm with email updates and newsletters.

5) Proactive Lead Generation

Incoming leads come hand-in-hand with a programme as broadly publicised as this, but there is also enormous potential for outreach. In the time since its launch, Coursera has reported a drop-out rate of 97%, meaning the 3% who did complete are focused, committed and fully engaged with the university’s course – making them a very worthwhile leads to pursue.

6) Measurable Results

We all love data, and through this campaign, universities can see how people learn and judge the strengths and weaknesses of their courses. Most importantly, from a marketing perspective, it would be useful to measure incoming search keywords, bounce rate if you create a specific MOOC landing page, and changes to overall traffic year on year. This is an unprecedented opportunity for this level of in-depth insight. Use it to analyse, test and improve, only if necessary of course.

Final thoughts…

The 23 universities involved are staking their reputation on the success of the FutureLearn campaign, which will ultimately hinge on demand. However, when the University of Edinburgh offered MOOCs through a US network, and the University of London opened its international programme, they yielded over 500,000 registrations between them.

The demand should be there, so it’s up to the institutions involved to pounce on this prospect – and I hope these suggestions will help them do so.
If you’d like to continue the conversation please don’t hesitate to get in touch, or find me here on Twitter.