Want to learn about select committees? Try Parliament’s new open online course

Written by Claire Bogue on 27 February 2018 in Opinion

Parliament’s senior learning projects officer Claire Bogue describes the work behind a recently launched Massive Open Online Course on select committees

A series of online courses have been designed to make Parliament more accessible to the public. Photo: PA

It’s been just over a year since the UK Parliament first entered the MOOC world – for the uninitiated, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs are a form of e-learning but with a difference, as learners explore and discuss content together in a very social environment.  

When we launched our first course An Introduction to the UK Parliament, we were testing the water. We wanted to see if it was a workable approach to engaging people with Parliament and demystifying parliamentary language and processes. We weren’t sure how many people would be interested but now, having run it three times, we’ve exceeded 10,000 learners on that course alone.

Since then, we have also collaborated with Royal Holloway, University of London, to develop Beyond the Ballot, to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and created a short course exploring how petitions work.

However, listening to feedback from the first cohort of learners also highlighted select committees as a key area of interest to explore in more depth. Our new course UK Parliament Explored: the Work and Role of Select Committees therefore goes beyond the introductory level. It enables learners to explore the different focuses of committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, walks them through the different steps of an inquiry, reflects on the cross-party membership of committees, and explores how they can be impactful.

We are pleased with the reception our MOOCs have had so far. Our aim is to make Parliament more accessible to more people, whether that’s in a professional or personal capacity. We want people to have a better understanding of how Parliament works, to understand how Parliament is relevant to them, and to encourage more people to engage with Parliament. This could be through contacting their MP, signing or starting a petition or, in this case, following or submitting evidence to a select committee.

The main challenge we face is hitting the right balance of content. The “massive” and “open” aspects of MOOCs mean that people joining our courses can be at completely different stages in their journey of engagement with Parliament. For the select committee course the material has to cater for people who have never followed select committees (so they’re not overwhelmed by the information), but with enough depth for those with a good grounding in the work of Parliament to feel they are gaining a deeper understanding.

The approach we take to creating all our MOOCs is to storyboard the content. At the very beginning of the process we literally work with a set of cards – writing down our ideas on them and then moving them around, ordering and reordering them until we’re happy that we’ve created a step-by-step narrative. We think about the big questions we want to answer, list important pieces of information we want to include and explore common misconceptions. We consider how best to present different ideas and concepts as it’s important to be mindful of the different learning styles of participants. Naturally there are multiple iterations and tweaks as you work through the process but this approach seems to work for us. 

We wanted learners to hear from those who have real experience of committee work. We spoke with lots of different colleagues across Parliament and we also approached chairs from both Houses to ask if they would be happy to go on camera. Luckily, they were more than happy to oblige!

We interviewed three chairs from the House of Lords and three from the House of Commons – all chairing committees with a different focus. They talked about what it’s really like to work across party lines, how some instances of select committee impact may be less obvious to the general public than others, and why they think select committees are important. This kind of insight is invaluable for anyone looking to make an impact on select committee inquiries. Their enthusiasm for their committee work really comes across in the video content we’ve produced, and makes for engaging viewing.  We hope this course will open up an area of Parliament which is less well understood and encourage more people to engage with the work of select committees across Parliament.

UK Parliament Explored: The Work and Role of Select Committees launches on 5 March on the social learning platform FutureLearn.

About the author

Claire Bogue is the senior learning projects officer for the House of Commons

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