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BBC Learning's massive open online courses

Tim Plyming

Executive Producer

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Digital technology is continuing to change the world of learning and nowhere is this more apparent than in the huge range of massive open online courses (MOOCS).This new breed of global online courses emerged from the United States and are proving to be hugely popular with platforms including Coursera and edX providing access to hundreds of courses to students across the world.

In BBC Learning, we have been following the progress of this revolution in online learning very closely and today we are revealing details of an exciting pilot project looking at opportunities for the BBC to work alongside UK universities as a content partner; I want to use this blog to tell you more.

I have been an online student myself and have loved the opportunity to dip into a huge range of world class learning in subjects as broad as the history of modern art, innovation in business, global cooperation and England in the time of Richard III. Online learning has given me the chance to experience amazing standards of teaching from the comfort of my home and to suit my schedule.

In the UK, FutureLearn has been working with a large number of universities to launch the first set of MOOCs originating from the UK. In addition a number of content partners are working to support these online courses with relevant material; current content partners include the British Library, British Museum and the National Film and Television School. At the beginning of this year, BBC Learning started to work with four university partners to deliver a pilot project, allowing us to explore the value that could be added by supporting online courses.

This year has seen the start of four years of commemoration of the centenary of World War One – as part of this commemoration, a number of the UK’s leading universities have been developing online courses which explore themes around the war that changed everything. For the BBC it offered the perfect opportunity to explore the value we could add as a content partner.

We are working with universities to support the formal learning aspects of the course with a range of supporting material – content in production at the moment includes curated audio and video clips for the archive, audio slideshows and articles written by our world-leading news correspondents. The BBC will also look to engage with course learners by driving debate moments and conversations across social media and online. Users will also have chance to curate their own exhibition from Britain’s collection of oil paintings on the BBC Your Paintings website.

We cover a broad range of subjects in this exciting set of online courses.

  1. Aviation Comes of Age, from the University of Birmingham
  2. Changing Faces of Heroism, from the University of Leeds
  3. Paris 1919 - A New World Order?, from the University of Glasgow
  4. Trauma and Memory, from The Open University


You can register for one of the free courses from today  – you’ll be sent welcome and background information; the courses will run through October and November this year.

To support this pilot, we have created four new BBC iWonder guides based on the themes of the online courses, presented by Dan Snow (pictured), Sian Williams, David Shukman and Johnson Beharry VC to introduce audiences to these topics and explore different perspectives on thought-provoking questions.

You will find links to all related iWonder guides from the BBC’s World War One portal.

As I have said, this is a pilot project and very much an experiment both for the BBC and our universities partners so a vital part of the process will be to hear from you on what works well and what could be improved. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the amazing world of online courses perhaps now is the time to start – we’ll be interested to learn from your experiences.

Let us know your thoughts through the comments below or by emailing

Tim Plyming is Executive Producer, History, Science & Nature in Knowledge & Learning.



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