Huge surge in demand for online war history courses

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Tens of thousands of people signed up to online courses to learn more about the First World War, figures show.

The centenary of the Great War sparked the interest of individuals across the world, with students from almost all of the countries who were involved in the conflict joining one of the programmes, according to FutureLearn.

Four “MOOCs” - massive open online courses - have run on the FutureLearn website over the last two months looking at different aspects of the Great War, such as the traumatic effects of those involved in it, and the early days of aviation.

The Changing Faces of Heroism course, operated from Leeds University, is among those that people have signed up to.

In total, more than 35,500 people signed up to one of the programmes, which were produced by four universities and the BBC, the figures show.

The only country that was involved in the First World War that did not have learners on one of the MOOCs was Liberia.

Nigel Smith, head of content at FutureLearn, said: “Rather than getting an overview of the entire war or its most well-known events that many books and documentaries offer, learners on our courses explored specific topics in greater detail, be it the traumatic effects on the war’s survivors in the Open University’s course on Trauma and Memory, or the legacy of the Paris Peace Conference in the University of Glasgow’s course on Paris 1919: A New World Order?.

“Learners also enjoy learning from each other, posting and reading thousands of comments on each course. Interestingly, learners from every country involved in the war took part in the courses - except for Liberia - and many shared family histories and memories handed down to them from that time.”

The courses included academic material from the universities and video, audio recordings and images with historical value from the BBC’s archives.

Professor Alison Fell, who was the lead educator on Leeds University’s MOOC on the changing faces of heroism, said: “One hundred years on from the start of the conflict, the theme of heroism still resonates strongly with both British and global communities. As an academic, it has been refreshing to be exposed to a broad range of perspectives of learners from all over the world. They are enthusiastically embracing discussions about how the definitions of heroism changed during and after the war, and how heroism has been understood differently in diverse nations.”

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