Setting up a content operation: FutureLearn

Once we had got FutureLearn’s product build under way, thoughts turned to how we would enable university partners to create and run courses on the platform.

Relationships

In March 2013, Matthew took on the role of FutureLearn’s Acting Head of Content, minding the shop until FutureLearn was ready to make a permanent appointment. We offered this service as part of our product incubation process, helping the organisation assess its capacity needs before making a critical investment decision.

Central to the success of this mission was establishing strong, close working relationships with FutureLearn’s university partners. We worked quickly to establish confidence with some of the smartest and most demanding colleagues we’ve ever had, experts in learning technology and design but also (in their part time) neuroscientists, computer programmers, teachers, dentists, university vice chancellors and pro vice chancellors. Building trust was doubly crucial in a situation where our platform was still under construction, and we were guiding partners in creating content to an entirely new format. It was a situation that called for clear and honest communication, a readiness to listen, rapid analysis and crucially, to act as bridge and buffer to the product team as they got on with their impossible task.

Process

We’ll be honest – we were making a lot up as we went along. We had to establish a clear process for everything from workflow and storage for the legal paperwork around course distribution, course design, rights clearance and marketing, to protocols for sharing course ideas within the partnership, the creation of a schedule of courses, guidelines for style and brand and processes for data sharing and analysis.

How did we manage to pull it off in the few months we had? We’re not quite sure. At one point during the summer, Matthew stood up in front of a room full of vice chancellors to unveil the first course schedule, describing the process of creating it as like assembling a tent in a thunderstorm, with the pieces of the tent being sent one by one through the post.

But in June 2013 we got our first couple of courses out under a private alpha launch, in September we opened up our first courses for public enrolment and from October 2013 until the present day FutureLearn has been running courses to a rapidly growing global audience.

Team and handover

In the process of getting our first courses on to the platform we enlisted the help of some of our friends, Roland Taylor, Dharmesh Rajput and Emma Hutson. Later, we recruited a permanent social lead, a team of partner managers and finally a new Head of Content to help FutureLearn continue the job. Two years on, we are delighted to have strong working relationships with every one of them as part of our ongoing work with the company.