Thursday, December 15, 2016

Going Online: Perspectives on Digital Learning

In reviewing the book "Going online: perspectives on digital learning" by Robert Ubell (Routledge, 2017), Mike Sharples nominates four universities as pioneering global open education: Athabasca University, Open University, MIT, and University of Cape Town:
"The pioneers are universities committed to global open education, such as the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; Canada's Athabasca University; and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The most traditional universities are finding this step the hardest."

From Digital education: Pedagogy online Sharples, Nature,
Interestingly, only one of these universities is in the USA (MIT). I am a student of education at Athabasca University, and while it is mentioned frequently in e-learning research publications, it rarely gets a mention in the specialist education press and almost never in the popular media.

Sharples points out that "... the education system in transition from campus instruction to global enterprise ...". Some academics may fear this, seeing it as a move to the commercialization and commoditization of learning. However, what the open university have show is that it is possible to provide a quality education at a lower cost to more people. This is not about fancy software or replacing lectures with videos, it is about careful design of education. 

Writing in Inside Higher ED, Robert Ubell, lists reasons  "Why Faculty Still Don’t Want to Teach Online". However, I suggest one reason is that academics are mostly not trained in how to teach on-line and so are not surprisingly reluctant to do so.

The production line revolutionized the manufacture of cars. What is usually emphasized is the efficiency brought about by production line workers carrying out repetitive tasks. What is not highlighted is the large team of highly trained engineers who not only design cars for mass production, but also the production and quality control process. The result is not only cars which are much cheaper than those made by hand, but also vehicles which are more reliable, more efficient and of much higher quality. The same thinking is used by on-line and distance universities, who use teams of educational design specialists, working with subject matter experts to produce efficient, low cost courses. This is something which academics without training in course design will naturally find threatening.

This is not to suggest all education will be like a robotic factory. Modern car plants use a combination of robots and human workers. Even bespoke luxury cars from Rolls-Royce and Bentley are produced on production lines. In the same way education will be a combination of automated e-learning and hand on human tutoring, with the blend depending on need (and what the student can pay for).

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