While 2012 was perhaps the year of peak MOOC fever, the bubble evidently has yet to burst.  A consortium of UK universities led by The Open University has launched today with 20 pilot courses including 8 which are set to begin between October and December this year.  FutureLearn was set up in December 2012 and includes 23 university partners as well as the British Library, British Museum and British Council.  Other partners comprise the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leicester, Loughborough, Kings College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Monash, Nottingham, Queen’s Belfast, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde, Trinity College Dublin and Warwick.

This has the potential to herald a new era of online education in the UK, but it remains to be seen how the initiative will deal with some of the challenges typically associated with MOOC.  Interestingly, the message that seems to be accompanying the launch materials is that we need to look beyond the standard measures of course completion/dropout rates.  Does this reflect a bit of uncertainty about the anticipated scale of attrition?  In fact, details about the actual delivery of the courses and how they will be assessed still seems a bit sketchy to me at the moment.  Undoubtedly the UK education ‘brand’ associates the FutureLearn brand with something for which there is undoubtedly an international appetite.  Early indicators are that there’s no shortage of people signing up…

FutureLearn could yield masses of data for key OER Research Hub hypothesis if we can find a way to access this data, which, owing to the corporate structure employed by FutureLearn, is likely to remain inaccessible for the foreseeable future.  Can FutureLearn embrace the open sharing of data, analytics, and evidence without compromising its commercial interests?  This remains to be seen… in the meantime, here’s a summary of some of FutureLearn press doing the rounds at the moment:

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, claims that FutureLearn will offer ‘escape from the man

BBC report on FutureLearn’s place within the global online education market

OER Research Hub’s Martin Weller defends the value of openly available ‘taster’ materials for formal education

Doug Clow’s is cautiously optimistic; read his thoughtful discussion of the challenges already overcome

A Times Higher Education article on the launch

Techcrunch reports on the FutureLearn launch

Perhaps reflecting an international focus for marketing, FutureLearn is discussed in The Australian

Dennis Hayes makes the case against the ‘Mickey MOOC’ university

This site claims that Indians are among the highest enrollers for FutureLearn (but I can’t see any obvious basis for this)

Gita Bajaj argues that MOOC like FutureLearn are a disruptive innovation, not a bubble

Follow the story as it unfolds through the FutureLearn Twitter account