Since late 2012, I have completed more than 130 online courses, mostly for free audit. It would be an expensive hobby to pay for all those certificates.
Most FutureLearn courses can be explored for free for a limited time, but you need to pay if you want ongoing access and/or a certificate. In March 2019, FutureLearn introduced a 12-month single price subscription that allows you to earn certificates for most courses on the platform. You also keep ongoing access to any courses that you complete during the 12-month period.
You might wonder why anyone would need ongoing access to a course. As a site owner, I need to be aware of legal issues such as GDPR. Instead of the daunting task of reading the whole GDPR document, I took two courses: Introduction to GDPR: General Data Protection Regulation and Understanding the GDPR, which discuss relevant clauses.
Sadly, free access to FutureLearn courses expires after the length of the course plus two weeks. So, I only had access to the first course for five weeks, while I lost access to the other course after six weeks. When I later wanted to check something, I could no longer see the course materials. I opened the GDPR document and began wading through it. Boredom quickly set in as I struggled to find what I needed.
I began to consider paying for the courses. But I was unwilling to outlay US$99 each for these short courses.
Meanwhile, I was preparing a comparison of Programming For Everybody (Getting Started with Python) on three different online platforms. Which would mean US$69 for the certificate.
US$267 for three courses! FutureLearn Unlimited began looking very attractive, especially when a discounted price was offered. On October 27, 2019 I paid around US$177 for one year of FutureLearn Unlimited.
I had great plans of taking dozens of courses during my 12 months of access.
As well as revising and completing the GDPR courses, I happily re-enrolled in current sessions of some other FutureLearn courses I had previously taken, so I could keep access and refer to them at any time. I also enrolled in several other interesting courses.
I repeated the GDPR courses and two others to receive certificates and ongoing access. I earned my certificate in the Python course.
Although I managed to complete two more courses, I began feeling overwhelmed whenever I looked at my crowded FutureLearn profile page. I have dealt with addiction to online courses before, but this time I found myself less focused. Procrastination became normal as I checked emails and social media. After all, it was only February and I had until late October to finish the courses.
Another unexpected consequence of joining courses in October or November, then not looking at them again until months later, was that when I finally revisited them, the discussion forums were inactive. I had not realized how much I look forward to functioning discussions to help retain my interest.
As a result, I found myself dabbling in a bunch of courses without making significant progress in many.
Meanwhile, a cloud had appeared on the horizon, which was to impact my online learning in unexpected ways.
When the US went into lockdown, my part-time role at Class Central dealing with Help emails became full-time overnight. The flood took several weeks to slow to comfortable levels, while my own learning took a back seat.
Meanwhile, Coursera announced a raft of free certificates for a limited time. Free upgrades were also available on some FutureLearn courses and I became side-tracked by the allure of free offers. As the Help emails decreased, I managed to finish several courses, particularly as I rarely left the house.
By the time September (and a reminder from FutureLearn that my Unlimited subscription would expire in less than two months) arrived, I had received five free Coursera certificates and free upgrades for six FutureLearn courses. But wait! Shouldn’t I be focusing on getting full value from my FutureLearn Unlimited subscription? I fitted in three more FutureLearn courses before my subscription expired.
FutureLearn Unlimited: Is It worth It?
If you are considering a subscription, identify and plan which courses to take. Are certificates or ongoing access important for you?
If free, limited access is not sufficient, how much does each course cost? Would Unlimited be a better option?
The discounted price for FutureLearn Unlimited was good value for the three courses I wanted. The other seven courses I received Unlimited benefits for were a bonus, but in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t really need Unlimited for them. I didn’t renew my subscription. Maybe, in the future, if I need certificates or ongoing access to several courses, I will consider a subscription again, especially if a discount is offered.