FutureLearn offers a variety of content via different plans for learners. The site is held back as there needs to be more content, and also more upfront pricing.
Leading university partnerships
ExpertTracks for in depth learning
Emphasis on teaching marketable skills
Free track available
Lacks some support options
Pricing is somewhat opaque
No smartphone apps
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FutureLearn was first launched in 2013 designed to bring education to the masses. It is a private company that is owned jointly by both The Open University, which has a staggering five decades of experience in distance education, and The SEEK Group.
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FutureLearn has partnered with a diverse group of institutions, such as the British Museum, the National Film and Television School, and works with organizations like the BBC, and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
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FutureLearn is a British digital education streaming platform. While there are a few US based institutions of higher learning, such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Connecticut, the majority are international, such as the University of Edinburgh, and the City University of Hong Kong.
All told, there are 16 ExpertTracks to choose from. Each consists of three to four courses, is designed to run over ten to twelve weeks and are designated for an introductory learner. With courses that range from “Innovations in FinTech,” to “The Ultimate Digital Marketing Training: SEO, Google Ads and Cold Email,” and “Customer Experience Design for Customer Success” each is designed to teach a marketable skill for the job market. In fact, for that last course, it indicates that there are almost 2,000 job openings monthly in the UK, with a median base salary of £42,500 (approx $58,200).
Those not looking to commit to an ExpertTrack should check out the individual courses. This offers over 100 courses, and covers a wide range of topics and purposes. Some of this content is intended to update skills, and could be job related, such as “Introduction to Digital Transformation: Understand and Manage Digital Transformation in the Workplace,” which is 100% online, and designed to take six weeks. It is offered by the Media Design School of Auckland, New Zealand. The pricing on this course is a little difficult to find, and the button that comes up that indicates that the course can be started for free does not fully explain it. Indeed there is a free track, and the learner gets access for 8 weeks, which we would consider generous. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the $74 upgrade path would be money well spent as it then gives lifetime access to this course, along with a course test that leads to a digital Certificate of Achievement. Finally, there is a $279 annual unlimited plan that allows access to this course, and many others for the year.
We consider it a serious deficit that there are no smartphone apps. Unfortunately, the lack of both an Android, and an iOS app for FutureLearn is a significant shortcoming as most of its competition offers this, and enables learning on the mobile platform.
Plans and pricing
Unlike some competitors, FutureLearn’s pricing is less than clear and upfront. While others have a simple tiered plan with some free content, FutureLearn goes for more of a fragmented approach, as the pricing of some offerings is downright amorphous.
The easiest part to understand are the ExpertTracks, which are essentially certificate programs, with a series of courses to deepen knowledge, or acquire a new skill. FutureLearn offers 85 of them currently, and the learner can take as long as they want for completion, but there is a monthly subscription fee. For example, there is the introductory ExpertTrack “AI Design and Engineering with Microsoft Azure,” which consists of five courses designed to be completed in 17 weeks, and leads to a certificate. The cost of a subscription of $39 monthly, and when we sampled other ExpertTracks, they all had the same priced subscription plan, although it only entitles you to that one course for that price as far as we could tell.
The support options for FutureLearn could be more plentiful, although what they have is highly developed. Support is centered around the “Help Centre.” This has a query box, and as a question is asked, multiple predone articles are linked to. By way of example, entering “Payment,” brought up 15 articles, such as “Issues with the payment system,” and “Payment options.”
For an issue not addressed with existing content, next is the contact portal to “Submit a request.” The user then indicates their email, the issue, and enters the issue as text into the box. Also, there is a Support Button on the bottom of each course page to initiate contact as well. Overall, this leaves us short in options, as there is no way to initiate direct phone contact (toll free or otherwise), a fax, a direct email, or a chat box. We also did not find any white papers, or support videos.
We generally get the User Reviews for these learning platforms from the respective iOS and Android app stores, but not having an app for either platform stymied these efforts.
On TrustPilot, FutureLearn does garner a lukewarm 3 out of 5 star rating. Some reviews did give it the full five stars, lauding the high quality content, and easy to complete certificate programs. However, others also gave it only a single star, and were dissatisfied with the service. Complaints centered around the difficulties contacting customer service, some aggressive billing practices, and the inability to complete an otherwise free course without payment for the final quiz.
FutureLearn covers learning that is 100% online, and targets users in the UK. We like the ExpertTracks to learn a new skill, the free courses to try this out, and the emphasis on job related education. Alternately, holding this service back are the lack of smartphone apps, the difficulty of directly communicating with customer service, and the short 7-day trial period. In the final analysis, FutureLearn is worth checking out if it has a course that interests you, but the competition has more developed platforms, and larger course catalogs.
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Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.