3. The wider context

3a. Legislative area: GDPR and DPA 2018

The EU General Data Protection Regulation, and subsequent enactment in UK law through the Data Protection Act 2018, is a legislative area that has implications in both my content production and delivery of courses on FutureLearn.

To support my understanding of the legislation I watched the ALT webinar, wrote a detailed blog post exploring GDPR to reflect on the issues raised, and participated in the #LTHEchat on the subject.

Online facilitation

As a result of the GDPR legislation, use of learner comments on FutureLearn became more restrictive due to the risk that any learner comment may include personally identifiable information, and hence is covered by the DPA 2018. The interpretation of GDPR that consent is required for any reuse conflicted with original platform Terms and Conditions (6.11) that learner comments could be reused under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives license.

On our courses, before GDPR, I had started to use learner comments within weekly course emails to provide exemplars of reflective writing. Our mentors had also used learner comments in fortnightly video diaries which captured key learning themes from the course. However, new instructions based on GDPR required consent before any reuse of learner comments, including for educational purposes. As learners can only be contacted by replying to their posts in the public discussion space, and notification of our request was subject to profile settings, this meant the consent process could be slow.


My initial view was that having to ask permission from each learner to use their comments in video diaries was unnecessary. This viewpoint was influenced by my understanding of discussion forums on closed courses, such as the online postgraduate courses I have been involved in, where facilitation should include active recognition of the learners and their contributions. Such recognition could be by including quotes from posts from learners in a summary or course email, the net effect being a greater collective ownership of the learning output and motivating further contributions. I was concerned that by not mentioning individual learners or citing examples of good work would limit our ability to demonstrate ideal learning behaviours and create personal links with learners.

However, after discussing the issue with other practitioners managing MOOCs, I recognised how the open nature of these courses means learners do not go through formal induction processes, which would typically include setting of ground rules and building of trust between learners and educators. As such, and influenced by discussions with other MOOC designers, my view changed to take account of what is essentially common courtesy to ask permission to reuse someone’s comments. There were still places for that personal connection with learners to be made.

I changed the workflow for video diaries, where I now require mentors to log where they have asked permission for comments to be reused, and for the course emails I draft. Course emails have to be submitted early on in a weekly cycle, therefore there is little opportunity to gain consent from the current cohort of learners. Instead, comments are reused with consent from end of course feedback from the previous run. Course emails are still able to demonstrate the impact of learning, and video diaries continue to offer more personal recognition of learners’ work.

3b. Policy area: Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development

The UK Department for Education Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development outline five criteria for success, of which two directly impact my learning design process:

  1. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
  2. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

Supporting these statements is implementation guidance, which whilst doesn’t refer to online methods, translate to this mode of CPD. The following have influenced my approach:

  • Work with the school so that there are multiple opportunities for teachers to practise.
  • Support structured collaboration and discussion about the impact on pupils.
  • Support participants and their schools to sustain and embed change and link shorter activities with sustained programmes.

Impact on online CPD design

The ABC/FutureLearn Learning Design approach includes learning activities that are about practising new learning and the social learning pedagogy of FutureLearn supports collaboration. In all courses, there are activities that require taking new ideas back into the classroom as teaching activities, using ideas for planning or for assessing their own practice. The challenge I face within short online courses, is that the practical application of course ideas may not always be aligned to the part of the curriculum that is currently being taught. The opportunity for teachers to implement course content may be several terms away. As course access expires on FutureLearn, teachers would no longer have the online space to capture their offline learning. We instead encourage teachers to retake our courses, and so having the structured reflection opportunity again, or use the outputs of tasks dealing with planning teaching.

Structured collaboration is easier to achieve, and I have encouraged course authors to include targeted discussion steps early on in all courses. This allows teachers to share their current practice and opinions before new ways of working have been discussed. Then, at the end of the course, participants revisit the same question and reflect on changes in approach. FutureLearn refer to these as ‘big questions’ that the course is aiming to answer. I have transferred this approach to courses designed for volunteers, setting up the ‘big question’ in opening videos and returning to it in a final reflection task.

The implementation guidance also highlights one action that CPD providers can take to ensure the CPD is focused on student outcomes: “Provide tools that help participants change their own practice and evaluate its impact.” This is one area in particular that learning technology can make significant advances. My organisation already had an established system to support this process for residential CPD, but this could not be used for online participants on FutureLearn due to the anonymity of our learners. In its place a pre-course and post-course self-audit (online survey) was established by my predecessor. I have used this approach in all new online courses, adapting the task to encourage the outputs are kept as a record of CPD and included new questions that require identification of desired outcomes and reflection on whether these have been met.


In online courses where learners are self-motivated and not required to complete tasks for certification or accreditation, the course activities are very much available for them to use to meet their own needs. Including tasks for early identification of these needs is a key part of achieving this. Future development will need to encourage revisiting the desired CPD outcomes during the course, rather than just at the end. I will also need to incorporate an evaluation of how effective the six-month self-audit is as a mechanism for capturing long-term impact.

From what I have found looking at retention rates and a subjective view of course discussions, is that closed, smaller cohort online courses tend to sustain a high proportion of learner engagement through the course. This suggests to me that we need a mix of both open and closed courses to provide a rounded programme of online CPD that addresses these criteria. It would be important to note that closed courses may also be our very successful residential CPD, thus a blended programme may adequately sustain engagement. This is the focus of work for me for the next 18 months.

Next: Core Area 4. Communication and working with others


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