September 3, 2014

UBC is going big with online and flexible learning

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UBC's Vancouver campus

Yesterday (March 11), Stephen Toope, the president of the University of British Columbia, sent an e-mail to all faculty announcing a strategy to increase flexible learning across all the university’s programs. In the e-mail, he announced:

In the latter half of 2012 UBC undertook a strategic assessment of the recent global developments and their meaning for our institution…..which concluded that for UBC to meet the learning expectations of a new generation of students we need to evolve our teaching model further to one that more systematically blends traditional classroom environments with online components, interactive distance dialogues and small support groups.  The key is to provide a flexible approach to suit the varying needs of learners, and so we are calling this the Flexible Learning Initiative.  The primary objective of this effort is to enhance the learning experience of our students.

 We will initially focus our efforts on blending direct entry programs in Arts and Science in Vancouver, but we will also pursue other flexible learning opportunities including additional professional programs, personalized degrees and MOOCs.  Although the intention is to redevelop whole programs, we will work course-by-course, looking for the greatest positive changes for our students and working with faculty most interested in new teaching methods. 

Comment

This is a very significant move by one of the leading publicly-funded research universities in North America. It can be seen that this is a widely focused initiative that goes to the heart of the university’s teaching operations. MOOCs no doubt played some part in the development of the strategy (UBC after all is offering four courses through Coursera) but UBC’s real focus is on making credit programs more accessible and online learning more integrated within these programs.

This is an excellent example of a broad institutional strategy towards online and flexible learning that every university and college needs to now undertake, if they are to stay relevant and competitive in the future. I look forward to seeing how it rolls out at UBC over the next few years.

Declaration of interest

I spent eight years between 1995-2003 working at UBC as Director of Distance Education, and played a very minor part in the ‘strategic assessment’ last year.

Comments

  1. Tony, I hope they pave the way for others. Flexible learning, as you probably know, was coined and delivered in Australia years ago. They have a good model to follow.

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