Always learning

The Secret Power of Brands’, which we created in collaboration with FutureLearn and the University of East Anglia, launched its ninth run just last week. Designed for people developing a career in branding and related areas, it gives them an opportunity to contemplate the future direction of the industry, with fresh ideas on the concept of brand loyalty and the evolution of brand experience.

With this, our course on Building Resilience in the arts, and another learning piece for a big automotive client in the offing, it feels like an opportune moment to reflect on what we’ve learned as practitioners. I’ve covered some of these points in previous posts, but they’re increasingly relevant in the work we’re doing.

There’s huge appetite
85,000 people have signed up to the FutureLearn course. We’ve been astonished by the level of interest, from practically every country on the planet. Not everyone starts the course, let alone finishes it, and it’s up to each learner to choose how deeply they want to get involved. But there’s no sign of interest petering out: this is not a fad.

People discover for themselves
With 20 years experience as a branding practitioner, I’m not short of things to say. But putting content into an online PowerPoint isn’t the same thing as helping people learn. We had to find ways to show things, not just tell them. And to help people discover things for themselves.

We learn best from peers
FutureLearn encourages learners to post comments all the way through the course, and that’s exactly what they do. On the first run alone, they posted 30,000 comments in total – how could I possibly read them all? After a while, I learned to relax, to just dip into the discussion, and to let the learners get on without me. Feedback shows that people have a brilliant learning experience just from interacting with each other.

You can test even the most amorphous knowledge
Branding is not a subject where there are right and wrong answers (or even an agreed terminology). You can test people through essays and projects – but could online tests, which have to be multiple-choice, ever work? We learned that they can. The most unstructured knowledge is testable in a structured way.

A face helps
Of course, online learning can become depersonalised, and we quickly discovered that it helps to have a face on film, and a voiceover behind slideshows. I do a short YouTube message at the end of each week, to create a sense of personal contact. And on each run of the course, we put on a Google Hangout or a webinar, so that learners can talk to us live.

MOOCs change lives
By far the most common word used in feedback on the course is ‘eye-opening’: the course opens people’s eyes to the things that organisations do to build their brands, so they never quite see the world the same way again. Many learners tell us they’ve used the course to influence branding at the company they work for, or to help build the brand of their own start-ups. And we’re just starting to see a flow of learners applying for our full-time course at UEA.

The biggest discovery for me overall is that online learning really works. It’s often seen as second-best to face-to-face learning: not true. People can learn at their own speed, in their own time, review things as often as they like – it’s all on their agenda, not the teacher’s. It’s an exciting time for ed-tech and we’re thrilled to be part of the revolution.

Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development at FutureLearn, agrees:
“This was the very first course to run on the FutureLearn platform and we’re very proud of how UEA has developed it over time as it continues to attract large cohorts of learners. The course has incorporated additional features to enable meaningful interaction and knowledge sharing, which we’re really excited about. As the industry faces dynamic changes, it’s important for those working in the field to keep abreast of what’s going on; it’s fantastic that learners will have the opportunity to address this with guidance from key practitioners in the field.”

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