The FutureLearn model offers a powerful new way to learn online, they describe how they envisage this working in their about section.
One very important aspect is the idea of community supported learning, which is explained as as follows:
An intensive tutoring model can’t work for massive-scale free courses, so we need to offer online support without a large network of tutors. The solution is to harness the power of the community, where learners can make immediate use of their newly acquired skills by sharing their knowledge with their peers.
Following other learners is part of a powerful system we are building that will allow you to acknowledge good contributions and promote people who offer helpful advice, and to develop your own reputation. In this way, success comes not just from passing an assignment and completing a course, but also from making a contribution to the FutureLearn community.
I believe this is a very important strand to the FutureLearn model, but I think the community needs support from someone with a stewardship role and seeding with more experienced learners. Depending on the number of educators there are in the team they can provide this support and seeding.
For the first run of the Begin Programming MOOC, we have the team of educators who helped design and develop the course present and contributing to discussion, one of whom has the full-time role of facilitator, the others working on this alongside other work. We also recruited a group of seven of our upper year undergraduates to provide a more experienced voice, for a few hours per week. The experience that our undergraduates are developing in communicating technical information to varied community will prepare them well for the world of work.
On a recent project with WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) we introduced the idea of “buddies” to support e-learning alongside trained facilitators, buddies need to have taken the course they are buddying on, and receive training to take on the role, becoming a buddy is something many participants aspire to.
For second and subsequent runs of University of Reading FutureLearn MOOCs I would like to see people who have taken the course previously returning to help, like the Guides’ buddies. This could happen informally since there is nothing to stop anyone repeatedly attending a course, or is could be more formalised, with training on how to support in a MOOC and some sort of credit at the end.
For the Begin Programming I believe we would also want to keep some involvement from our undergraduates as they have a good understanding of technical complexities and they can benefit from participation.
There will remain a role in each run of a MOOC for the educators who have designed and developed the course, it would be a poor experience for learners if Professor Big Star never put in an appearance, other than in a few video clips.