Marks and Spencer moves into online courses

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Image source, PA
Image caption, The High Street retailer is moving into online courses

Marks and Spencer is entering the online education market, launching a business course with Leeds University.

The massive open online course, or Mooc, is a free course on business innovation.

It uses case studies, video from the company's archive and support from university academics.

Alison Houston, head of the M&S archive, says the course teaches how "creative concepts are balanced with commercial thinking".

These self-study online courses were first associated with universities, with many prestigious institutions making their courses available and drawing huge numbers of students.

Online learning

The US-based Coursera platform, which brings together Mooc courses from hundreds of universities, has signed up more than 9 million students.

But there has been a blurring of boundaries, with increasing numbers of organisations, without any formal role in education, getting involved in such online courses.

Image source, Other
Image caption, The course uses the M&S archive: How the chilled food counter looked in 1974

Marks and Spencer is among the first retailers to have a Mooc, using the UK-based FutureLearn platform, which was set up by the Open University.

Last week, the British Council produced its first English language teaching course, also on FutureLearn, with more than 100,000 students signing up.

Organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and major museums have moved into online courses.

The University of Leeds and Marks and Spencer course will look at examples of business innovation relevant to the retailer, such as the introduction of chilled foods and the development of man-made fibres.

It uses videos, quizzes, interactive polls and live discussion and uses the university's researchers in design, engineering and business.

It draws on the M&S company archive, with 70,000 items going back to the 1880s, which is now held on the University of Leeds campus.

It includes how the retailer set up a research laboratory to develop new fabrics in 1934 and promoted chilled food in the 1960s.

These Mooc courses do not charge a fee and usually do not lead to any formal higher education qualification. For this course, students can get a "statement of participation", which is a certificate showing they have participated in the course.

Neil Morris, director of digital learning at the University of Leeds, said: The course aims to stimulate and encourage further growth in innovative and entrepreneurialism in the business sector."

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