FutureLearn, the provider of free, online courses, (often known as MOOCS) has announced the launch of its Beacon Schools programme; a pilot to review how social learning technology can help close education gaps, which contribute to university drop out rates, provide additional resources to students and improve learning outcomes.
In 2013, UCAS placed a record number of students into Higher Education (465,000, an increase of 6.6% on 2012) and this number is set to increase this year with universities able to offer an additional 30,000 places*. However 18,000 students dropped out of university in 2012, according to the most recent report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and research from Which? shows that 11% of students in 2013 regretted their choice of course (25,000)**. Additionally universities have to invest resource in ‘catch up’ classes, with 60% doing so in 2012 according to an OCR study.
One of the contributing factors to drop out rates is thought to be a lack of readiness for the style of learning in universities known as the ‘learning ‘gap’. FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson says: “We felt that by working more closely with selected schools we could understand how to help increase students’ aptitude for learning both in school and in preparing for university. The beacon schools we are working with have been quick to see the potential of social learning technology, and will explore how FutureLearn’s free online courses can integrate into school processes.
Five schools are working with FutureLearn in the pilot programme, selected based on their outstanding Ofsted results and proactivity of leadership around online learning opportunities. The schools are Bullers Wood School, Bromley, Langley Grammar School, Berkshire, Sir William Borlase’s School, Buckinghamshire, Blessed Thomas Holford, Cheshire, Bungay High School, Suffolk.
Yvette Bellis, Acting Deputy Headteacher Bullers Wood School says: “We are working with FutureLearn to see how we can help students gain valuable learning experiences, through free online platforms, that will help to enrich the curriculum and prepare them for university style learning. We also consider there to a learning gap between GCSE and A Level and we feel there are opportunities to explore the value of FutureLearn courses in this context too. We’ve currently got 220 students all signed up to FutureLearn courses and look forward to seeing how this platform can help the way our students learn and develop.”
Peter Holding, Head Teacher, Sir William Borlase’s says: “We see a valuable application for schools across the country. In the current context of budget cuts, FutureLearn’s free courses presents an ideal resource to extend student’s learning. We think that FutureLearn online courses have the potential to be a hugely valuable enrichment opportunity for Sixth Form students, particularly as they prepare for life at university. Many of our students are getting involved with courses that extend their knowledge in their chosen specialist subjects, while others are looking at courses purely for fun.’
Another area that FutureLearn will discuss within the Schools partnership will be how to help students with UCAS applications and university interviews. Harriet Jones, Director of Pre-University Skills Programme at the University of East Anglia, who devised the Preparing for University course, says: “The type of learning undertaken in university is markedly different from school. Many students feel out of their depth and ill prepared for the leap. Getting used to the discipline of self-motivated study through social learning can, we believe, significantly help with this. University applications could be improved by having a deeper knowledge of the subject area a student wishes to study, being able to demonstrate that commitment in a tangible way would be interesting to UEA and universities in general.”
* Autumn Statement 2013.
**British Council 2013 Conference: Education Agents and Future of International Education; Daily Mail report on Which Survey, 11 Sept 2013