University teams up with M&S to offer acclaimed free online course


Businesses can benefit from access to leaders in commercial innovation, thanks to collaboration between the University of Leeds and Marks & Spencer.

A free three-week online course – Innovation: the key to business success – runs from 8 June and will provide businesses and individuals with theory and case studies for driving innovation in the workplace.

It attracted almost 15,000 learners when it first ran last September and was highly commended in the European MEDEA Awards. The course, part of the education revolution known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), is being repeated as a result of its success and popularity and now has accreditation from the CPD Certification Service.

Learners benefit from access to world-class teaching at the University of Leeds, as well as case studies from both M&S and the University, including the development of a fresh food supply chain and machine washable fabrics, and an energy saving waterless washing machine.

Design expert Dan Trowsdale, Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of Mechanical Engineering, is leading the course alongside colleagues in Leeds’ schools of Design and Business. 

He said: “This is a fantastic example of a world-class university and an internationally-renowned retailer teaming up to deliver a course that will illustrate the fundamental role innovation plays in business.

“Simple, innovative ideas can have a huge benefit for society, but this course will be about not just finding a good idea, but also commercialising it so that it has the widest possible impact.

“This course is unique in that it offers a window into the heart of M&S, a real British success story, but brings our expertise as a university to bear too. The use of case studies from both organisations brings to life innovation theory and illustrates in practice how people are key to driving successful innovation.”

The unique partnership between University of Leeds and M&S aims to increase collaboration with local communities, enhance employability and lead the way in specialist research. 

Alison Houston, Head of the M&S Company Archive, which provided M&S case studies for the course, said: “This course is a practical way for companies and individuals to enhance their business skills to benefit their everyday work. The high volume of sign-ups we had when it first ran last year is testament to the demand for practical learning solutions within the Leeds and wider UK business community.

“The course is a great example of our partnership with the University of Leeds at work and enables us to share some of the innovations at the heart of M&S, which made the organisation the success story it is today.”

Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, said: “This course aims to stimulate and encourage further growth in innovation and entrepreneurialism in the business sector. It illustrates how the University is working with successful individuals and companies to develop freely available educational materials for the benefit of all online learners.”

Innovation: the key to business success is suitable for participants at all stages of their career, helping them learn how to develop an idea and drive innovation – whatever their role in an organisation.

To find out more about how the University’s partnership with M&S brings education and business together, take a look at the video here.

Further information

What they said: learners who took part in the course last year told us – 

“This has been a fascinating and engaging course. I've done a number of MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform and this has been the best by far - interactive, great content, interesting presentation of information, and great level of response by the course mentors. Well done to all involved.”

“Thank you for a well laid out journey of innovation discovery. The course has helped improve my knowledge and, more importantly, I can apply this in my day-to-day work environment.

“The course was extremely inspiring. Thanks a lot.”

“Excellent course, thought provoking. As much about collaboration and working with very different groups of people as innovation, which gave the course even broader appeal. Well done – a great MOOC.”

“This was a mind-opener: being innovative is within the reach of the majority if we can learn to observe, question, share, try, manage, join forces, and to accept failure. Thank you.” 

The course runs on FutureLearn, the social learning platform, and is open to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone. It features videos, interactive quizzes and forums allowing participants to ask questions and interact with their peers. 

CPD Certification Service accreditation means the course conforms to continuing professional development principles and equates to 12 hours of CPD time. There is also an opportunity for learners to buy a Statement of Participation on completion.

FutureLearn courses are free for all, with students of all ages from across the globe able to choose a course that interests them and learn from the University of Leeds’ top academics – benefiting from virtual access to world-leading researchers in their field and studying at a pace that suits them.

M&S Company Archive

The relocation of the M&S Company Archive to the University of Leeds has provided the foundation for a broader partnership between both organisations. This partnership has led to collaboration on cutting-edge research and delivered support for employability opportunities for young people.

The M&S Company Archive is of considerable value to scholars due to the economic and social importance of M&S – lending itself to a number of research projects from the evolution of the company, development of staff welfare programmes and financial performance through to the growth of the store network and the range and nature of products provided to a growing mass market. To find out more, see:

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