Review of www.futurelearn.com – Is It Worth It?


FutureLearn is one of the later additions to MOOCs and started operations in 2013 with its offices in the UK. It has some unique advantages and disadvantages which raises an important question as to whether its worth taking courses on this platform.

Most students enjoy FutureLearn for its easy and interactive online courses, though some have had issues with customer service. There is a good selection of free and paid certificate courses for a lower yearly fee. Short courses focus on improving professional skills whereas microcredentials also provide academic credits.

For students looking for free, quality content to develop new skills and for those willing to pay a small fee for a certificate, FutureLearn has a lot to offer. However, for those who change their minds and wish to opt out, or for those who are unclear on the terms and conditions, FutureLearn might leave them with a lot of unanswered questions.

FutureLearn: Advantages and Disadvantages

FutureLearn is very starter-friendly and students at all levels of learning can benefit from its courses.

FutureLearn began its first courses in 2013 and features leading courses from many European, North American, Asian and Australian universities.

Here are the Top 10 advantages of the FutureLearn platform for students:

1) The course content is of high quality and the curriculum is prepared by leading universities in collaboration with big corporations. This makes the certificates more valuable for employment and career growth.

2) The information and videos are presented in a simple and easy-to-understand format and this helps students to quickly stay engaged and to move forward with the courses.

3) Each course is broken out into small chucks that require about 3 to 6 hrs per week of learning. This makes it possible for even busy professionals with a hectic schedule to complete the courses conveniently.

4) There are many opportunities for student interaction and students are able to learn from one another. Though this can at times be confusing to someone new to an online learning format, it certainly provides students ample opportunities to learn from one another. Many of the tests are reviewed by peers which helps students to track and verify their own learning.

5) The courses contain video interviews with industry experts who have built a praiseworthy career in that field. This creates a positive career outlook and motivates students to learn with renewed energy.

6) The low-cost, unlimited yearly subscription allows for an unlimited number of short courses and certificates for the year. This is a great value.

7) Academic credentials are available for a higher cost with the microcredentials and degree programs.

8) FutureLearn students have a higher course completion rate compared to many of the other leading MOOCs such as edX or Coursera.

Despite the advantages, there are a few important issues with FutureLearn:

1) Upon signing up for the unlimited subscription, there is a cooling off period of 14 days at which time the student can request a cancellation for a full refund. There have been cases when students were refused this refund on account of their continuing a completely free course. So please decide carefully before starting any paid courses or subscription and do so only if you are absolutely sure you will be able to do the course/s.

2) Even after completing a paid course and passing the test, the ID verification process can be cumbersome. This verification is needed to confirm that it was definitely you who took and passed the test.

3) Even for courses that are advertised as free, unless its listed as a free digital upgrade, students will have to pay for the certificate and to take the test. This is not very clear and some students get frustrated when they take a free course for some weeks but are unable to take the test without paying for the full upgrade.

4) A score of 70% on the final test is required to get a certificate. Even a 68 or 69% will mean the student has failed the test. With a paid upgrade for a short course, a student will only be allowed one retake of the test, and free (digital upgrade) courses do not allow any retakes until the next course run. This can be frustrating for some students.

5) The free courses are introductory in content and do not cover much in-depth information on the topic. So for someone interested in improving their skills in their existing field, the free courses do not provide much value. The paid upgrades or subscriptions are the only opportunities to learn for professionals in their chosen field.

6) Though its possible to access FutureLearn courses from any device, there is no app for taking the FutureLearn courses. This can be inconvenient for students who prefer using an app.

FutureLearn Free Courses and Discounts

Finding free courses with a free digital upgrade will allow you to complete the course, write the test and to get the digital certificate for free. The full listing of their currently-running free digital upgrade courses are available here. You can also enter this search term directly in your browser to locate such courses, though the direct link given above will be much faster and simpler.

There is currently a discount of 30% off on all short courses for the paid upgrade. These discounts and promotions are likely to change from time to time.

Value of the FutureLearn Certificate

Academic credits

The short courses and expert tracks build professional skills whereas the microcredentials and degree programs also provide UK academic credits, especially at the post graduate level. This is suitable for EU students and for students from other countries.

Students from the US can complete a foreign credential evaluation to have the UK credits evaluated for US equivalent credits. WES and ECE are popular agencies for these foreign credential evaluations. Upon completing such an evaluation, the credits can be transferred to a US bachelors degree at one of the degree completion colleges.

Professional advancement

MOOC courses enable professionals to develop new skills or to advance their skills in their existing profession. In addition to this, intensive multi-month training in in-demand topics will certainly make a great addition to your resume.

Students in FutureLearn report greater job performance upon completing their courses. This in itself is beneficial as most business, science and technology fields constantly have new innovations which encourage continuous learning to stay on top in the chosen field.

Also, most FutureLearn courses provide training from both industry experts and world-class universities. This provides a perfect blend of academic learning and job-ready career skills. There are lots of opportunities to learn, collaborate and ask questions on FutureLearn with both fellow students and the course tutors.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual as to how s/he is able to apply what was learnt toward their profession. Your CV or resume will do well to have a separate section that lists your latest certifications and training. This is helpful for job interviews and for career advancement within the company and elsewhere.

The FutureLearn award of certificates will be displayed in the student’s profile page. There is an option on this profile page to share the awards on your LinkedIn profile for career advancement.

FutureLearn Unlimited

For a low, yearly subscription, you can get access to all of FutureLearn’s short courses for an entire year. This is especially helpful for those who want to keep learning new skills to stay on top of their profession and for future career prospects.

A lot of times, professionals find themselves in a position at work where they are left behind and are unable to grasp a new concept or trend in their industry. By signing up for an unlimited plan, professionals can constantly stay on top of the learning curve on the latest trends and technologies.

Even for college students who want to start on a lucrative career, learning the most in-demand skills that are highly valued in the workplace will build a great momentum for opportunities in their future career. Employers are constantly on the lookout for younger professionals who have a good grasp of the latest and greatest skills within their industry.

Since younger students bring a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to learn, the only gap they need to fill is regarding their professional and marketable skills. This gap can be aptly filled by the short or longer courses at FutureLearn. Having a limitless access to all the platform’s courses for a small, yearly fee makes it easier on the pocket as well.

FutureLearn: An Overview

FutureLearn began in 2012 as a private company and is a joint venture of The Open University in the UK and The SEEK Group. FutureLearn has about 10 million learners worldwide and has quickly risen to become a key MOOC provider from Europe.

In addition to the open online learners from all over the world, there are many schools that are using FutureLearn for educating their pupils. There are also corporations providing FutureLearn discounts and plans for training their employees.

There are also numerous campaigns conducted by partners via FutureLearn. For example, for the Study UK campaign to promote UK education, the British Council and GREAT Britain campaign are offering 50,000 free digital upgrades. There is also a Study in Australia campaign.

FutureLearn Platform Features

Once students signs up to a course, they are presented with a welcome introductory video that gives them an overview of how the course will progress. This is followed by a weekly schedule of audio, video and textual lessons. Throughout the courses, there will also be quizzes and exercises for students to solidify their learning.

Tutors are encouraged to view the learning experience from the point-of-view of the students and to provide details such as what comes next, showing next week’s activities, keeping record of things student has already completed and so on. Student profile pages also keep a record of all of the student’s progress and activities within the FutureLearn platform.

There is a Todo list for each week and assignments that need to be submitted per week. The assignment results are shared in the comments section and the tutor periodically replies to comments and offers further guidance on the topic and lessons.

Some assignments ask for students to review other students’ assignments so they are able to learn from and provide feedback on each others’ assignments. There is also a flag button so students can moderate other’s comments and alert FutureLearn in case of any inappropriately rude or negative comments.

Each course has atleast one final test. There are courses which have multiple tests and students are required to score 70% or above in all the tests to receive a certificate. For most short courses, students will have to pay for an upgrade or have an unlimited subscription to take the test. The only exception is courses which are listed as free digital upgrade which do not require an upgrade to take the test.

For each course, the duration, study time required, cost and prerequisites are listed in the title page of that short course or for other longer courses. So please check these and the prerequisites before signing up for your courses n FutureLearn.

Types, Duration and Cost of FutureLearn Courses

There are four types of FutureLearn courses as follows:

1) Short courses

Short courses cover a variety of industry topics and typically last between 2 to 6 weeks depending on the individual course content.

Short courses are of four types namely, free, free digital upgrade, upgrade and unlimited.

Free courses allow students to participate in all the course learning for free except for the tests or final certificate.

But for courses that are listed with a tag of free digital upgrade, in addition to the free course content, the tests and final certificate are available for free. For all other short courses, a single course upgrade for about USD $49 to $94, or an unlimited courses yearly subscription of about $280.

There is also a 7-day trial available for many of the paid short courses. Once students upgrade, take the test successfully and get the certificate, the successful course content will always available for access. This is true even for unlimited-subscribed students and they can keep the course content much beyond the year of subscription.

Some of the short courses are CPD accredited where CPD stands for Continuous Professional Development. CPD is a certification body in the UK that is supported by UK’s leading universities and corporations.

2) Expert Tracks

Expert Tracks are a series of in-depth lessons on the chosen topic. They usually last between 2 to 6 months and this duration varies from one expert track to another. There is a monthly fee of about $39 for access to any one expert track. So it is best to complete one expert track completely before signing up for another. Each expert track comes with a 7-day trial period which begins at the start of the expert track.

To manage monthly costs and if you have more available study time, simply study for many more hours than what is prescribed for the course. This will allow you to save money and to quickly complete an expert track so you can signup to another expert track sooner.

3) Microcredentials

Microcredentials are intense programs which provide both academic credits and professional skills to the level of an independent certification. They are much more expensive than expert tracks and each microcredential costs between $700 to about $1000 depending on each individual microcredential.

UK university credits are awarded upon successfully completing the microcredential generally at the post graduate level or a few at the undergraduate level. Though the university credits are awarded by a specific UK university, it may be possible to use the credits at another college or university.

For utilizing the UK academic credits in the US, you can complete a foreign credential evaluation with an evaluator such as WES or ECE. Before starting an evaluation, check with your enrolled college as to whom they recommend for the foreign credential evaluation.

It appears that the 10 to 15 UK credits would be worth about 2 to 3 US credits, but this can vary depending on the course content, the evaluation and the individual college policies.

4) Online degrees

The online degrees are from UK and Australian universities specifically for MA, MSc or MBA programs and are quite on the expensive side. Most of these MBA programs charge a tuition of about USD $30,000 or so. The MSc programs and the MA programs charge between USD $15,000 to about $30,000 which varies from one degree to another.

The price of the online degrees are generally lesser for the students from that country than for the other international students. For example: for the BA in International Business from Coventry University in the UK, the tuition fee for the complete degree costs £9,250 for UK/EU students and for international students it costs £13,250.

The programs can be taken completely online and will award a degree from the partner university that’s on par with most regular UK or Australian college degrees. Most of the online degrees offered relate to business, management and health sciences and would be good to see a larger selection on college majors.

5) Programs

These are course bundles of 3 to 4 short courses which works like a mini-certification and each program costs between USD $200 to about $500 including the final tests and certificate/s. There is no monthly fee like the expert tracks and the cost is much lower than the microcredentials.

FutureLearn Vs. Other MOOCs

There are a few areas that FutureLearn stands out in comparison to other MOOCs:

1) Completion rates for MOOC courses with the major MOOC platforms such as edX and Coursera is about 5% to 15%, leaning closer toward the 5%. But FutureLearn has been able to manage an overall course completion rate of 20% as per the company CEO.

2) There are many motivating videos on FutureLearn from industry experts and mentors who describe how they have grown and built their career in their field. This helps motivate FutureLearn’s students to engage more with the courses as they are able to see the benefits of this learning directly from industry practitioners.

3) Student interactivity and student-tutor interaction are key elements of the FutureLearn platform. This enables students to work in teams and to encourage one another. There is also a follow feature whereby a student can follow another student so as to see more of their online conversations. This allows students to network with other student mentors and with other like-minded students.

4) The course content is greatly simplified whereby complex concepts are clearly explained with real-world examples and in simple words. This helps students to more easily understand and progress through their courses on FutureLearn. This is not the case with some of the other popular MOOCs.

Here are a few ways the other MOOCs out-perform FutureLearn:

1) MOOCs such as Coursera provide access to even their intensive courses for free and charge a small fee for a certificate. But at FutureLearn, most short courses cannot be taken without a paid subscription or an upgrade.

The only ones that students can freely access are courses which are clearly listed as free or free digital upgrade.

2) Most free courses on FutureLearn are basic and suitable only for beginners to that field and so they are unsuitable for experienced professionals.

Subjects and Topics of FutureLearn Courses

There is a vast selection of courses and all popular subject areas are covered with a huge range of short courses and expert tracks. Microcredentials and online degrees are also available in smaller numbers than the rest of the courses.

Courses on Engineering, Health Sciences, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, Creative Arts, Languages and more are all covered. The course list appears to have increased considerably even compared to about an year ago and seems on an upward trend.

FutureLearn Partner Colleges

FutureLearn began with several world-renowned partner universities from the UK and some from other European nations. This list of partners has been continuously growing and currently there are several universities from Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, South America and so on.

FutureLearn’s partner universities include many leading institutions such as The University of California – Irvine, Durham University, John Hopkins University, The University of Newcastle – Australia and The Shanghai International Studies University and The Open University.

In addition to this, FutureLearn has a long list of industry partner organizations such as Accenture, Samsung, British Council, Macmillan Education and so on.

These partner universities and organizations collaborate jointly with the Open University and FutureLearn to create, administer and deliver the FutureLearn courses and certifications.

Conclusions on FutureLearn

FutureLearn’s course structure and presentation leaves nothing unfinished and its by far the most beginner friendly MOOC platform for online learning.

Students from all levels are able to quickly begin the courses and progress quickly towards completing the FutureLearn courses.

Another aspect I like about FutureLearn is how affordable the Unlimited short courses yearly cost is! However, the upgrade pricing for the short courses could definitely be lowered to meet the needs of students from the many developing nations.

There are not enough free courses or free digital upgrade courses on topics other than those at a beginner level. This combined with the pricing of the paid short courses makes it unreachable for students who are looking to take just one or two courses.

The refund policies also appear overly complicated due to various rules and restrictions. This is certainly something that needs to be looked into for a better customer experience.

The community features with student-to-student interaction and tutor communication are worthy of praise. This definitely makes FutureLearn stand out from the other MOOC platforms. There are also many fun interviews, videos and quizzes sprinkled throughout the courses. All of this definitely makes it worthwhile to give FutureLearn a try!

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