How I got a “first” on a FutureLearn MOOC with one weird old trick…

I’ll be having a celebratory pint tonight, having aced my FutureLearn MOOC “The Secret Power of Brands” with an unheralded 87.4% mark for the module.

A career in branding is surely only weeks away, and my inbox is braced to deal with the influx of job offers.

But how did I do it?

(a) I learnt a lot about branding from the informative course content and readings?

(b) I’m stupendously smart and a branding “natural”?

(c) I cheated by getting a branding expert to answer all the questions?

(d) It is very easy to write bad MCQ assessments?

Yup, it was (d) all the way.


To ensure a fair test, I did not look at any of the materials, readings or discussions (exceptions: a bit of a play on week one to see what the platform was like, and a video about how they branded FutureLearn in week 2). There was to be no connectivism here, this was a pure exercise in strategic learning.

I did, however, look again at an amazing presentation that I once saw UK learning&teaching legend Phil Race give ten years or so ago, which included the legendary “content free test”.

The presentation is here (midway down the page, called “Designing Multiple Choice Questions”). For those of you who don’t want to download a .zip file (yup!) of a PowerPoint deck, a blogger named Carole Bower summarises the guidance here. The original source of this guidance is given as (Conners, B , (1983) Assessment of Students in Distance Education, James Cook University)

So, using these principles I was able to answer the vast majority of questions in the end-of-week test. Towards week 6 or 7 we started to see more questions related to specific knowledge, rather than general ideas. So I allowed myself to use wikipedia and corporate websites to look up “in which year…” and “who owns…” type questions.

The only exercises I did were those marked “test”. I did wonder whether the discussion sections would contribute to my final mark, but I guessed not.


As FutureLearn currently does not offer any indication of “results” from a MOOC course, I am guessing at my final results – simply by adding up the total possible marks and my total actual marks, and finding a simple percentage.

I was expecting to do at least slightly better than 50%, in line with an expected probability of guessing the right answer. Nearly 90% was utterly unexpected.

An alternate explanation would be that “branding” as an academic subject is a load of bobbins, a series of half-arsed generalisations and principles dressed up with a a couple of pseudo-academic references. I wouldn’t feel qualified to test that.

FutureLearn itself, as a platform, appears no better and no worse than any of the major xMOOC competitors. Putting the discussion sections in amongst the videos rather than in a separate corner is probably a good idea, the extra videos from Robert Jones did make reference to them but it didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not being in there.

Multiple choice questions can be use effectively for formative and summative tests, but you need to follow established good practice to make them work.

And pink is still horrible. Sorry.

4 thoughts on “How I got a “first” on a FutureLearn MOOC with one weird old trick…”

  1. I can’t believe you only got 87.4% on the course. I did a similar thing and managed 92.9%. Fzzzzz, can you feel the burn?

    On a serious note, another one of the FL courses I took a look at is offering an end of course exam that will give you a certificate of attainment with your result. It costs £119. That’s a new one on me.

    1. Hah – you’re 5% better! 🙂

      On your other note – & yes, it’s an idea FL have borrowed from us platforms – it alarms me that for £120 and a ten-year-old Phil Race presentation I could have legitimate university credit.


  • Can People Designing Multiple Choice Tests for MOOCs Please Study Designing Multiple Choice Tests? | Hapgood

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