Penn State to offer MOOCs on FutureLearn online learning platform

February 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State will begin offering massive open online courses through FutureLearn, the United Kingdom’s leading MOOC platform, as part of the organization’s launch in the United States.   

Penn State’s first two MOOCs with FutureLearn will be offered in the spring and will be taught by renowned faculty members in their fields. Richard Alley, a world-renowned climate scientist and Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences, will teach “Energy, the Environment and our Future.” Anthony Robinson, assistant professor of geography, will teach “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.”   

FutureLearn has partnered with more than 100 universities throughout the world to offer MOOCs, which are free, self-paced courses available to anyone with internet access. FutureLearn’s platform was designed to give people taking the courses a way to engage in conversation, enhancing the learning experience.    

“Penn State has long been a leader in distance and online education, and we’re excited to offer free online courses through FutureLearn’s highly collaborative and engaging platform,” said Renata Engel, interim vice provost for online education at Penn State. “This partnership is another way the University is addressing its ability to improve access to higher education and advance understanding.”   

Alley’s MOOC, which expands on his book and PBS television series “Earth: The Operator’s Manual,” will launch in April. It updates and expands key components of his 2014 MOOC, which first attracted more than 45,000 students.  

Alley uses short videos, interactive graphs and hands-on assignments to explain climate change and the benefits of curbing greenhouse-gas emissions globally. He said FutureLearn brings a global audience to a global problem.

“All of the world’s people live in places where the evidence is pretty clear that making the climate warmer hurts the economy," Alley said. “Even if you exclude all the environmental and sustainability dangers, global warming creates a place that’s worse off for most of the world’s people. And if you factor that into decision-making, and get serious about moving toward renewable energy over a small number of decades, you get a bigger economy where more people prosper.”   

Robinson's MOOC will open in May. Students will learn and practice the fundamentals of mapping sciences using the latest web mapping technology.  

“My goal is very simple — help people recognize the geographic information all around them and to make maps of their own for the first time to tell stories about spatial data,” Robinson said.  

Robinson said one of the best aspects of teaching courses at a massive scale is the interaction instructors have with students around the world.  

“FutureLearn does a nice job supporting these social learning aspects in a MOOC, and their platform also helps us make the course content as visible as possible to anyone browsing on the web for topics that we teach,” he said.  

Penn State joins Purdue University, Colorado State University, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and American University in FutureLearn’s U.S. launch. Owned by The Open University, FutureLearn began its first course in 2013 and since then has attracted more than 5 million registered learners from across the globe. Its partners are more than 100 universities in the United Kingdom and in countries such as Australia, Japan and China.   

Visit the FutureLearn website for more information about Penn State’s MOOCs.


  • FutureLearn logo
    IMAGE: FutureLearn
  • Richard Alley

    Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Professor Anthony Robinson

    Anthony Robinson is leading a MOOC that is teaching students worldwide to make maps

    IMAGE: Penn State
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(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 02, 2019