December 5, 2016

Learning analytics and learning design at the UK Open University

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Maxim Jean-Louis (President, Contact North) and myself outside Walton Hall, the headquarters of the UK Open University, in 2012. It was my first visit since I left the OU in 1989.

Maxim Jean-Louis (President, Contact North) and myself outside Walton Hall, the headquarters of the UK Open University, in 2012. It was my first visit since I left the OU in 1989.

The Open University (2016) Developing learning design and analytics for student success, Connections, Vol. 21, No. 3

The latest edition of the Commonwealth of Learning’s magazine, Connections, has an interesting if brief article of the effective use of learning analytics. There are four key points that I noted:

  • the OU has scaled up its predictive use of learning analytics to cover over 45,000 students, and it works as well in traditional universities as in the OU
  • learning analytics is used in connection with learning design to identify not only students at risk but also to improve the design of the learning materials:

    the OU for the first time can empirically analyse the design of its modules. By linking learning designs with student satisfaction and success measures, it became possible to systematically identify, measure and improve critical aspects of students’ learning experience.

  • the OU is the first university in the world to develop and adopt a policy relating to the ethical uses of student data for
    learning analytics, involving students themselves in the development of the policy. This makes the adoption and use of learning analytics much easier
  • the OU has appointed a reader in learning analytics, Dr. Bart Rienties: that is treating learning analytics really seriously.

Unfortunately there were no links or ways to follow up the article.

5 IDEAS for a pedagogy of online learning

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Guardia, L. (ed.) (2016) Next Generation Pedagogy: IDEAS for Online and Blended Higher Education. Barcelona Spain: UOC eLearn Centre.

This report aims

to provide a “roadmap” to inform strategic planning for the future of online and blended higher education, through an exploratory search and identification of trends and innovations in online, blended and lifelong learning provision globally, with a focus on pedagogy and the analysis of related institutional examples in the higher education sector.

‘Next generation’ pedagogies

The report’s executive summary provides a succinct description of emerging developments in online pedagogy, summarised in the acronym IDEAS: Intelligent, Distributed, Engaging, Agile and Situated.

The IDEAS framework presents five “signposts” on the roadmap of innovative approaches to teaching, which point to next-generation pedagogy:

  • Intelligent pedagogy is an approach to teaching in which technology is used to enhance the learning experience. Examples include using learning analytics to support course leaders in curriculum design decisions as well as to help students manage their learning, ensuring that both learners and teachers learn digital competences, creating a learning environment that is not restricted to an institutional learning management system, and the creative use of technologies such as virtual and augmented reality for learning and teaching.
  • Distributed pedagogy refers to shared or distributed ownership of different elements of the learning journey by different stakeholders in the process. It includes, at the one end of the spectrum, collaborative partnerships between institutions, and at the other, a deliberate separation of services to allow learners to select different aspects of their learning experience from a marketplace of potentially competing providers. It is possible for a single institution to have offerings at both ends of this spectrum.
  • Engaging pedagogy is an approach to curriculum design and delivery in which learners are encouraged to actively participate in the learning process. Related practices include supporting students to develop portfolios that have relevance for them outside of the classroom, involving the learners in producing content both for peers and for the wider public, creating conditions in which learners can construct knowledge for themselves, and including an element of gamification in the learning process. There is a related increased emphasis on teaching enhancement programmes for teaching staff to support them in making the learning experience engaging for learners.
  • Agile pedagogy refers to flexibility and customisation of the curriculum and the student experience. It includes personalised learning pathways and individualised support for learners, recognition of prior, non-formal learning achievements in order to widen participation and fast-track learners through programmes, responsiveness of institutions and systems to learners’ needs, and support for virtual mobility of students and internationalisation of the curriculum. All these developments also support the widening of participation in higher education, facilitating access for learners who might previously have been excluded.
  •  Situated pedagogy encompasses the idea of contextualisation of learning and emphasises the need for curricula with real-world relevance. It expands work-related learning opportunities for students, and supports.

It also provides real-world examples, drawn internationally, that illustrate each of the five developments.

This report is intended to be used as a launchpad for wide-ranging dialogue amongst stakeholders at distance teaching universities, contributing to the development of a bold vision of the impact that these institutions can have on global higher education and on society as a whole.

Emerging online practices

The five IDEAS are a useful organizational framework for summarising what in fact is a wide range of emerging online practices identified in this study, including:

  • Active learning (Arizona State University, USA)
  • Beyond the LMS: augmented reality: (University de Huelva, Spain)
  • Inter-institutional collaboration (BCcampus, Canada)
  • Digital literacy (DIGCOMP, EU)
  • Collaboration between HE institutions and employers (X-Culture, global)
  • Flexibility and personalisation (Capella University, USA)
  • Innovation as a teachable topic (MIT, USA)
  • Internationalisation (Massey University, New Zealand)
  • Learning analytics (Georgia State University, USA)
  • Non-formal and open learning (OpenClassrooms, France)
  • Recognition of prior learning (Athabasca University, Canada)
  • Faculty development (Penn State University, USA)

Comment

This report provides some intriguing suggestions for designers of blended and online learning. As the report states:

The examples of initiatives discussed ….. may be used as inspiration for course teams, departments or institutions to explore innovative practices.

It is clear that universities are going to change, not just because technology is at last beginning to radically shake up how we design courses, but also because the needs of learners are changing. In the end, the value of any new online pedagogy will be judged by how well it helps meets these needs. This report provides many useful ideas and examples that should help stimulate such developments.

Thanks to Richard Elliott’s excellent eLearning Watch for directing me to this publication

A post-graduate certificate in neuroscience and online learning

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Image: Roche, 2016

Image: Roche, 2016

One of the interesting things I discovered during my visit to Drexel University a couple of weeks ago is that they offer a post-graduate certificate program in neuroscience, learning and online instruction.  Drexel University is an international leader in neuroscience research, and its nursing program is very innovative in its online teaching.  This program looks at the cognitive aspects of neuroscience and how it can be applied in the field of online learning.

The program:

provides the knowledge and skills to apply concepts of neuroscience, cognition, and learning theory to online instruction based on evidenced-based research and real-world practice.

After completing this six-course certificate you will be able to:

  • Address regulations related to online learning
  • Apply neurobiology and learning theory approaches to online instruction to support transfer of learning and self-efficacy
  • Apply procedural and metacognitive scaffolding strategies to online instruction
  • Compare and contrast neuroimaging techniques for investigating cognitive function following injury resulting in impairment
  • Describe neuroanatomy, cognitive function, and multi-sensory learning
  • Discuss cognitive, social, and emotional learning as it relates to adult learners and the memory process
  • Elucidate the relationship between neuroplasticity, neural networks, and rehabilitation
  • Explain the anatomical and physical bases of learning and memory.

The program is aimed at:

  • Post-baccalaureate professionals who instruct or plan to instruct courses in online and/or blended environments building upon the facets of neuroscience, cognitive function, and online learning.
  • Graduate students wishing to continue their graduate study to include a post-baccalaureate certificate in Neuroscience, Learning and Online Instruction.

The program is of course available entirely online.

I have to say that if I was starting my career today in online learning, this is exactly the kind of program I would need to take.

For further information go to: https://online.drexel.edu/online-degrees/nursing-degrees/pbc-neuro-learning/index.aspx

 

A survey of distance education in Brazil

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ABED (2016) 2015 Brazilian Census for Distance Learning: Analytical Report on Distance Learning in Brazil São Paulo, Brazil: Associação Brasileira de Educação a Distância (ABED)

“In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

W. Edwards Deming, quoted in the report.

This is the 8th year that ABED (the Brazilian Association of Distance Education) has surveyed distance learning in Brazil. The 82 page report with another 100 or so pages of tables is available in both English and Portuguese.

Methodology

The report states:

Because institutions have chosen to participate voluntarily, the survey that feeds this document seeks to be comprehensive, but does not intend to establish an exhaustive scenario of distance learning in Brazil. Its analyses, instead, aim to present a picture of market trends in regards to the categories of institutions that work with the distance learning modality, the types of courses offered, the audience they reach, the execution of distance learning activities, their organization and even profitability, necessary investments and challenges inherent to this modality.

The report covers:

  • Institutions accredited by the Brazilian National Education System at all levels: primary, technical, undergraduate and graduate;
  • Formal and informal educational institutions who offer open courses.
  • Institutions operating in corporate learning.
  • Companies that supply distance learning products and services.

Blended courses are defined by Federal Law as having up to 20% of the workload offered in distance learning mode.

ABED contacted 1,145 institutions via email newsletter and an open invitation published on the association’s website, with information about the survey for all establishments operating in distance learning. In total the survey was based on 368 responses, of which 339 were educational institutions, and 69 ‘suppling’ organizations. The 339 educational institutions were made up as follows:

  • public (federal, state and municipal): 92
  • for profit: 114
  • private not-for-profit: 71
  • other: 62

Participating institutions were from 27 states across the whole of Brazil.

Results are broken down by a range of variables, such as type of organization, size, region, etc.

Main findings

This survey had a significantly increased number of participants over previous surveys conducted by ABED and confirms the growth in the number of institutions and companies working in distance learning in 2015:

  • it identified a total of 5,048,000 students in fully distance or blended courses, of whom:
    • 1.1 million were in fully accredited (degree) courses
    • 3.9 million were in corporate or non-corporate open courses
  • just over half (53%) are women and almost half are aged between 31-40
  • 70% of the students are working as well as studying
  • the most common discipline area for both fully online and blended courses is teacher education/training
  • drop-out rates for distance learning courses are higher than for on-site courses, averaging between 26%-50% for fully distance accredited courses.
  • over 50% of the institutions had a centralized management structure for distance learning courses and programs
  • nearly a quarter of the surveyed institutions intend to increase their investments in distance learning in 2016, notably in strengthening blended learning
  • the investments made by non-profit and for-profit private institutions were higher compared to that of public institutions,
  • the majority of distance learning classes have between 31-50 students
  • more than 60% of institutions used open source learning management systems, customized within the institution, of which 43% were cloud-based
  • a good deal of information is provided about private companies offering distance learning services; these private companies provide services particularly to for-profit institutions.

Comment

Professor Fred Litto, the President of ABED, in his introduction states:

One must refer to quantitative data in order to be able to efficiently discuss what distance learning (DL) represents to a nation such as Brazil

This is a statement with which I fully concur, and I have lamented many times the complete lack of national data in Canada. The report is extremely wide-ranging and covers many areas that I have not seen in other national surveys. This no doubt is one of the benefits of doing surveys over a number of years.

Nevertheless I do have some serious concerns about this survey. Without a comparison with the total number of institutions in Brazil, it is difficult to know how representative this survey is. Even within the 1,145 institutions approached for the survey, the response rate was 32%.

Furthermore although there is a definition of blended learning given, I couldn’t find a definition of distance learning. In particular what proportion of the courses were fully online and what correspondence or print-based? There is a lot in the report about how text and audio-visual materials are acquired or developed, and even more about learning management systems, but as an outsider I am left wondering about how much is done online and how much by other methods. This is an important consideration given the different levels of access to the Internet in Brazil. Maybe though it has been covered in earlier reports.

However, given the huge challenge of surveying institutions in a country as large as Brazil (a population of 200 million and an area almost as large as the USA), and the tremendous differences between the regions and between socio-economic groups within regions, the report still provides a fascinating insight into distance learning in Brazil. For instance 15%-25% of the institutions surveyed offered open, ‘MOOC-like’ courses.

As always, you should read the full report yourself and come to your own conclusions, as there are many valuable nuggets buried in the more detail parts of the report, but it is clear that distance and especially blended learning continues to grow in Brazil, and ABED is to be congratulated for wrestling such a monster to the ground.

What the Conference Board of Canada thinks about online learning

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Grant, M. (2016) Learning in the Digital Age Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada

The Conference Board of Canada bills itself as ‘the foremost independent, evidence-based, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada’. Its Board is made up mainly of representatives from major corporate or business organizations. So when it issues a report on e-learning in Canada, it is likely to be read across a broad swathe of corporate and governmental organizations not directly engaged in education, but with a major interest in the kinds of graduates being produced in Canada in a digital age. It is also something that Canadian university leaders are likely to pay attention to as well.

What the report is about

The introduction to the report states:

Information and communication technologies hold the potential to improve post-secondary learning by making learning more accessible and engaging. This report considers how and when e-learning may be used to improve post-secondary education in Canada.

Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

E-learning is defined (‘online learning’ is considered as being more or less the same as e-learning), it is argued that the quality of teaching drops as face-to-face class sizes get larger, and e-learning can make learning less expensive and more accessible.

Chapter 2: the 5 Ws of e-learning:

The five Ws are the what, why, when, who, and where of e-learning in Canada. The main points of this chapter are as follows:

  • E-learning uses a range of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to deliver and manage learning.
  • The inherent differences between e-learning and traditional face-to-face classroom instruction relate to two factors: organization of time and space, and use of technology.
  • E-learning is becoming more popular because it appeals to learners, is cost-effective, and its quality is improving.
  • The North American e-learning market is mature in terms of e-learning adoption, but still developing in terms of the sophistication of e-learning offerings. Other markets around the world are rapidly adopting e-learning.

Chapter 3: Post-secondary e-learning in Canada

This provides a brief summary of current e-learning provision in Canadian universities and colleges. Almost the whole of the information in this chapter is based on secondary sources. It concludes:

Canada’s post-secondary institutions have been reluctant to offer e-learning as a degree option to full-time undergraduate students; perhaps because this would compete with residential learning programs.

This chapter also argues that investments in e-learning technologies such as LMSs are considerably under-utilized, that adoption is following the path of least resistance, and for the most part, e-learning is not being used as an alternative format for younger, full-time degree students because this would undermine institutions’ need to make use of existing classroom infrastructure.

Chapter 4: Advancing e-learning

This chapter particularly looks at the perceived barriers to e-learning:

There are a variety of institutional factors that must be addressed if e-learning is to be more widely adopted in the Canadian post-secondary system. These have to do with the way capital is funded at the institutions, institution management, and the way e-learning is designed and executed.

most of the people who make decisions about funding capacity favour building more physical classes. It matters little whether this is the most efficient and effective way to conduct post-secondary education….The economics of funding capacity help to explain why e-learning adoption is low. If capacity is funded in a different way, then the economics will change.

rational capacity planning and utilization should consider optimal pedagogy and learner preferences first, followed by investing in suitable learning capacity to accommodate the volume and type of learning. Then the pricing of learning should reflect its cost to deliver.

In this chapter it is argued that there is much poor quality e-learning in Canadian post-secondary institutions, but it provides three examples of effective e-learning design and execution (from York University, the University of Alberta, and Humber College).

Main report conclusions

  • E-learning holds the potential to profoundly change the way post-secondary education (PSE) is designed and delivered.
  • From a quality perspective, e-learning may be more engaging, less passive, and more customized to different learning styles than traditional lecture-based learning.
  • There are about 1.3 million enrolments in fully online university and college courses in Canada. E-learning accounts for between 10 and 15 per cent of PSE learning.
  • Greater adoption of e-learning will happen if institutional focus on traditional classroom delivery can be reduced; faculty are adequately supported when they teach online; and e-learning design, development, and delivery practices improve.

Report recommendations (summary)

‘Based on this report’s analysis, the following recommendations are made for consideration in the [Conference Board’s] Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education (SPSE) national strategy:

  1. Reduce economic barriers to e-learning adoption: Institutional administrators, governments, and benefactors need to work together to change the PSE approach to capacity planning. They need to consider how to use e-learning and blended learning to lower costs, improve accessibility, and increase quality.
  2. Tackle institutional constraints to e-learning: Faculty resistance will be broken down when more faculty members are supported in approaching their teaching responsibilities through blended and e-learning formats.
  3. Adopt excellent e-learning practices: Post-secondary institutions need to recognize e-learning instructional design as a unique discipline. They need to access these distinctive skills either through their own in-house teams or external providers. Forums need to be created for post-secondary stakeholders to share and adopt best practices in e-learning design and execution.

Comment

This is a curious report and I find it unusually difficult to comment on it. Most of the conclusions I would not disagree with, but the report has a peculiar feeling of being written by outsiders who haven’t really quite grasped what’s going on. What is going on is a slowly boiling and considerably variable revolution in higher education that is not easily measured or even captured in individual anecdotes or interviews.

The main weakness of the report is that it relies so heavily on secondary sources. It is really disappointing that the Conference Board did not do any original research to establish the state of e-learning in Canadian post-secondary education. By relying to large extent on a few selective interviews and a very limited range of previously published papers, the report suggests conclusions were arrived at early then evidence was looked for to support the conclusions. At no point does it provide any evidence to support statements such as ‘e-learning can make learning less expensive and more accessible.’ Yes, it can but we need evidence, and it would show (for instance see: Carey and Trick, 2013) that while relatively important gains in productivity can be made, there are also serious limitations to what can be done in this respect.

At the same time, it is an important report. It does make the excellent point that a great deal of investment in post-secondary education is driven by the need to maximize physical plant and that this seriously militates against the large investment needed in e-learning if it is to make a difference. Cutting ribbons on a new building is much more photogenic for politicians than enrolling another 1,000 students online.

However, when you look at the recommendations they are painfully obvious and in fact are being applied in many if not most Canadian post-secondary institutions, maybe too slowly or not aggressively enough but the report makes it clear why this is the case.

At the end of the day this report reads somewhat like the first draft of a masters’ dissertation on Canadian online learning. It does not provide the heft needed to bring about or rather accelerate the major changes I would agree that are needed in this area. In particular once again a major opportunity to provide some new, hard data on online learning, and particularly its potential for improving productivity, was missed.

Nevertheless I do hope that government policy makers, institutional leaders and corporations will pay attention to this report, because it does make clear that e-learning/online learning must be a critical component of a successful future for Canadian post-secondary education. We just need to invest more in it.

Reference

Carey, T., & Trick, D. (2013). How Online Learning Affects Productivity, Cost and Quality in Higher Education: An Environmental Scan and Review of the Literature. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.