Saturday, August 1, 2015

Report on Distance, Blended, and Online Learning

Siemens and Dawson (2015) has produced a magnum opus meta-study on the history and future of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning. This 234 page PDF document "Preparing for the Digital University" (plus 41 slide presentation), takes us back to the origins of paper based distance education, through the transition to e-learning and onto the MOOC:


  1. Introduction  6
  2. The History and State of Distance Education  9
  3. The History and State of Blended Learning  55
  4. The History and State of Online Learning  93
  5. The History and State of Credentialing and Assessment   133
  6. Where is Research on Massive Open Online Courses Headed?   161
  7. Future Technology Infrastructures for Learning  199
Some important, but overlooked points the report covers are that the assumption that classroom teaching is superior is most likely incorrect:
"It is equally important to understand what role different modes of course delivery (i.e., asynchronous, synchronous, or classroom) have on overall student performance. The results are still not conclusive, although it seems likely that asynchronous delivery is superior to traditional classroom delivery, which in turn is more effective than synchronous distance education delivery." Emphasis added from (Kovanović., Joksimović., Skrypnyk, Gašević, Dawson & Siemens, p. 38, 2015).
Kovanović., Joksimović., Skrypnyk, Gašević, Dawson & Siemens also chart the different terms used in the literature to describe for e-learning from 1990 to the present (p. 100, 2015): The two most popular term from 2006 to 2014, were "e-learning" and "online learning", well ahead of the others:
  1. e-learning
  2. online learning
  3. computer aided learning
  4. distance learning
  5. distance education
  6. computer assisted learning
  7. distributed learning
  8. web-based learning
  9. computer-mediated learning
  10. internet-based learning
The study is cited by Ossiannilsson,  Williams, Camilleri & Brown (2015) in their review of quality models for online and open education. One point that both reports do not seem to address is that, if these forms of education have existed for so long, why do we need special quality models and studies of them: why isn't this just treated as part of normal education? One problem may be that proponents of on-line and open education want to keep treating their subject as special. Ossiannilsson,  Williams, Camilleri & Brown (p. 18, 2015) write "... in all systems face-to-face delivery of teaching remains the predominant mode ...". But is this the case?

In Australian universities, lectures are now routinely recorded for on-line use by the students and it is not unusual for course notes to be distributed via the web and assignments submitted on-line. My experience is that where lectures are recorded between one quarter and a third of the students will turn up for lectures. If it is the case that two third to three quarters of students are not attending class, then it could be argued that face-to-face delivery is not predominant mode of teaching in  the Australian university system.

This study was of interest to me in several respects. One is that one of the authors (Siemens) has been teaching me distance education in an on-line course. Another is that I have just returned from two international e-learning conferences (ICOFE 2015 and ICCSE 2015). Last night I talked at a Linux user group meeting at the Google Sydney offices on "Open Mobile Learning". What struck me was the contrast between the last experience and the two conferences.

The eduction conferences were attended by professional educators, coming from an environment where education is provided by institutions and students normally pay and enroll, where the objective is to make education more open and affordable. In this respect the perspective is similar to that of the authors of "Preparing for the Digital University". These educators feel they have to make the case for on-line learning. In contrast the Linux users come from a perspective where norm is educational materials freely and openly available on-line. Courses are open and accessible, perhaps with the option of a small charge form some form of credential. Trying to explain the difficulties of implementing open education to these people is difficult, as they just see it as normal and natural.


Kovanović V., Joksimović S., Skrypnyk O., Gašević D., Dawson S. and Siemens G. (2015). The History and State of Distance Education. in G. Siemens & S. Dawson (Eds.), Preparing for the Digital University (pp. 9-54).
Ossiannilsson, E., Williams, K., Camilleri, A. F., & Brown, M. (2015). Quality models in online and open education around the globe. State of the art and recommendations. Retrieved from
Siemens, G., & Dawson, S. (2015). Preparing for the Digital University: a Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning. Retrieved from

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