FutureLearn through the eyes of the future

In this post, Reka Budai, our Strategy & Insights Manager, and Monty King, one of our Partnership Managers, share their experiences with welcoming young students to our office.

Although we are an online learning company, we love taking advantage of being in the middle of London, and opening our doors to people who are enthusiastic about learning. We have hosted Learning Design Meetups and organised a get together for our London-based learners. However the most unexpected and memorable situations happen when we welcome young students to our office.

These encounters are particularly important for young people. Dr Anthony Mann, OECD senior policy advisor, notes (Gatsby Review of Career Education):

“Young adults who recall four or more encounters with employers while at school are five times less likely to be NEET [Not in Education, Employment or Training] … yet today only 40% of young people have this kind of meaningful encounter with an employer.”

In this post we share what we learnt when volunteering with Yes Futures and Harrington Primary School.

Taking things for granted

Yes Futures works with various schools for six months to develop the confidence, resilience and communication skills of their young students through coaching and various out-of-school activities. On their ‘World of Work’ day, they ventured out from Zone 5 to Camden, to experience office life and meet adults working in very diverse jobs at FutureLearn. Although they were a bit reserved in this unusual environment, they quickly warmed up after the office tour, seeing everyone welcoming them with a friendly wave.

Warming up during the office tour

The flood of questions were unstoppable, as they wanted to know why there is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the windows of the opposite office (you can’t compete with MTV in terms of office coolness!) or why we plaster the walls with colourful square papers (well, if they wanted a monologue on design thinking, they got it). The most interesting questions though were the ones that made you aware of things that you just take for granted each day: “Wow this office is so clean! Do they hoover every day?”, “Seriously? Every one of you has a MacBook?” (the enthusiasm was slightly curbed when they learnt that no, you can’t keep them forever) or “How come everyone is so nice here?”.

Broadening horizons

The most interesting part of the day was when we invited some of our colleagues to talk a bit about their jobs and the students had to guess their job titles. Tracey, our UX Researcher found this task probably the most amusing, as suddenly she learnt that in fact she is a ‘Kind Questioner / Investigator’. They also had the opportunity to ask questions about our paths to FutureLearn and it was really reassuring for them to realise that many of us had exactly the same dreams as them when we were young! One girl was particularly excited to hear that Tracey had been in a band and still pursues music as her passion, as the student had received some doubting looks about her dream to become a singer.

Introducing Design Thinking and the ways we work

When work is play

On a different occasion, 30 children from Harrington Primary School in Hackney came to learn more about the world of work at an online education provider. We began by explaining how FutureLearn didn’t exist six years ago, and nor did many of the jobs. Similarly, many of the jobs they will do when they leave school don’t exist yet. After that early scare we gave them a chance to try out of some of the jobs we do.

We split up, and one half of the class started by trying some course creation in small groups. They worked together as learning designers and academics to decide what they wanted to teach and how they wanted to present it. The students loved the ‘hands on’ element and the opportunity to create some online resources for themselves on laptops.

Tracey, our ‘Investigator’ explaining her job

The other half did some user experience work. After explaining that the learner is the centre of everything we do, we took a selection of icons and buttons cut out of paper to create a series of course discovery pages and a ‘learner journey’ on paper. Tracey came by and was impressed by the thought the students had put into their pages. She told us that as a UX Researcher, the most important question to ask is Why. Why do we need this button on the home page? Why does the join now button go at the bottom of the page? Why does this information need to be on a different page? I hope the students got as much out of it as we did; I know that the young man who told me that he was good with computers and liked learning things, so he would be coming to work here after he finishes school, certainly did.

Impact in a day

With these programmes aiming to raise aspirations you can always question whether you can really make an impact in just a day in someone’s life. However, I do believe that you manage to open up their worlds and plant some seeds even in such a short timespan. When they entered the building they had never even heard about the option to become a Designer or a Developer, and suddenly by the end of the day with a bit of exaggeration they all suddenly wanted to become one when they grow up. One boy asked if everyone here studied hard to get a job here, and the obvious answer put a really thoughtful look on his face. If he alone was reconsidering how engaged he should be in school next Monday — it was already worth it.

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