Improving the visibility of UK online courses

As part of the project’s work into investigating how the visibility of accredited UK online courses could be improved, LiveWork were commissioned to undertake research to understand user and institutional needs around this, and also to identify the value of a directory of UK online courses.

They found that (for potential online students):

  • Decision making is a (long) process – commonly six months, or more

    Course directory homepage mock-up

    Course directory homepage mock-up

  • Many needs are common, but some selection criteria are highly bespoke
  • Online courses based in the UK are taken as a sign of high quality
  • Being able to get advice from an expert is very valuable
  • Social aspects of decision-making are important to students
  • Want a simple, clear interface
  • Use of media on sites (video, etc.) can be informative and lends credibility

And arrived at these 3 key recommendations:

  1. Keep it visual: Future online students want to have a clear overview of what the courses offer them.
  2. Step by step guidance: People expect to be guided during their decision making process which can stretch over multiple months.
  3. Instantaneous information: The platform should be able to inform users and help them answer common questions effortlessly.

To gain this information, LiveWork spoke to a small number of current or prospective online students and institutions delivering online courses; they reviewed the market for online course directories and also reviewed successful digital services that operate in an analogous fashion, for example Which?, Trip Advisor and Amazon.

WP_20150818_004Following their research, LiveWork held a validation workshop earlier this month which was principally directed towards key Jisc teams, but also included representatives from external institutions. LiveWork presented their findings and got the participants to think about what role Jisc could play in enhancing the discoverability of UK online courses and what kind of partnerships could be considered to help deliver this. The focus was deliberately on what could happen and participants were encouraged to be as open as possible with their ideas.

Three scenarios were considered during the workshop:

WP_20150818_007Jisc as a data broker: operating in the background to collect and collate all the necessary information for prospective users to make an informed decision about what to study, and where.

Jisc as matchmaker: the middleman who brings together prospective students and the institutions they might attend through a Jisc directory of UK online courses website.

Jisc as advisor: a source of value-added services for both prospective students and institutions.



After synthesising the feedback from the workshop and their previous research in the area, LiveWork have presented 3 potential roles for Jisc and the implications for each of them:

A Jisc directory for UK-based online courses, to support prospective students in finding courses that they will find valuable

  • Investment/time: Both high
  • Data availability may be a challenge
  • Technical infrastructure would need to be built
  • Service and content management requirements over time would need careful consideration


A partnership between Jisc and a delivery partner, to support prospective students in finding courses that match their needs and requirements (likely to be in the form of a directory of UK-based online courses)

  • Investment/time: Both reasonably high
  • Commercial discussions would be needed
  • Would be a shared investment
  • Partnership model

Jisc as a provider of tailored advice/support to institutions on scaling up their online learning, including guidance on how to make their courses more discoverable and appealing to students.WP_20150818_013

  • Investment/time: Both medium-high
  • Need to invest in skills training for those delivering the advice/support
  • Potential to be delivered in partnership with another institution(s)
  • Requires investment in building relationships with customer institutions

Next steps

This has been an incredibly interesting and useful exercise – and further to the roles that LiveWork identified and shared with us, we are now exploring which, if any, of these options are feasible within Jisc’s remit, capability and strengths – more on this soon.

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