December 1, 2015

MIT introduces credit-based online learning

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MIT entrance

Bradt, S. (2015) Online courses + time on campus = a new path to an MIT master’s degree MIT News, October 7

MIT is famous for its non-credit MOOCs, but now, for the first time, it is offering a credit program at least partially online.

The one year Master in Supply Chain Management will consist of one semester taking online courses and one semester on campus, starting in February, 2016. This will run alongside the existing 10 month on-campus program. The online classes that make up the first semester will cost US$150, while the exam is $400 to $800. The second semester on campus will cost at least half what it costs for the yearlong program, which would mean about another $17,000. Students will still need to meet MIT’s academic standards for admission. It is expected to take about 30 to 40 students a year into the new program. The program will be offered using MIT’s own edX platform.

Since many other universities have been offering a mix of online and campus-based programs for many years, perhaps of more interest is MIT’s announcement of a new qualification, a MicroMaster, for those that successfully complete just the online portion of the program. MIT states that those that do well on the MicroMaster will ‘significantly enhance their chances of being accepted to the full master’s program‘.


First, congratulations to MIT for finally getting into credit-based online learning. This is a small but significant step.

It will be interesting to see how much the Master’s online courses differ in design from MOOCs. Will there be more interaction with the MIT faculty in the Master’s program? Will MIT use existing best practice in the design of credit-based online learning, or will they use a different model closer to MOOCs? If so, how will that affect the institution’s willingness to accept credit for MOOCs? All interesting questions.

Book review: Teaching and Learning in Digital Worlds

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Workspace in the EVEA3D platform

Workspace in the EVEA3D platform

Gisbert, T. and Bullen, M. (2015) Teaching and Learning in Digital Worlds: Strategies and Issues in Higher Education Tarragona Spain: Publicacions Universitat Rovira i Virgili (pdf version available online for 2.84 Euros).

What the book is about

From the Introduction

[The book] examines the teaching and learning process in 3D virtual learning environments from both the theoretical and practical points of view. It is divided into four sections:

  • the first section discusses education in the 21st century from the perspective of learners in a digital society and examines the basic competences students need to respond to the personal and professional challenges they are likely to face. It also explores the issue of quality…..
  • the second section focuses on the educational and teaching strategies higher education professionals must take into account when developing educational processes in technology environments…in such environments simulation will be our best teaching strategy and evaluation our greatest challenge.
  • the third section explores the use of 3D virtual environments in education in general and in higher education in particular….
  • The fourth section examines the range of experiences we consider to be good practice when applying 3D technological environments to the teaching of competences at secondary and tertiary levels of education both nationally and internationally.

However, this doesn’t quite capture for me what the book is really about, so I will discuss a little more closely below some of the themes addressed by individual chapters.

As a point of clarification, I will use the term ‘immersive environments’ as a shorthand to describe simulations, games and virtual reality, a point I will come back to in my comments at the end of this post.

Who wrote it

The book is edited by Mercè Gisbert of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Catalonia, Spain, and Canadian Mark Bullen, formerly of the University of British Columbia and the Commonwealth of Learning. However, the majority of chapters are based on a study (Simul@) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and coordinated by Universitat Rovira i Virgili, but involving universities in Spain, Germany, and Portugal, thus providing a valuable insight into the thinking about immersive environments for education in Europe.

Full disclosure: I wrote a short prologue for the book.

Themes covered in the book

Rather than a chapter-by-chapter summary, I have selected certain themes that re-occur through the book.

1. Digital learners

There is a lot of discussion in the book about the nature of digital learners and their ‘readiness’ for learning through digital technologies. In particular, Bullen and Morgan summarise the conflicting views and the research around digital natives and digital immigrants, and provide a more ‘nuanced’ profile of categories of digital learners.  Martinez and Espinal in their chapter provide a detailed description of digital competence and how to assess it. Throughout the book there is emphasis on the need to ensure that learners have the necessary ‘digital competences’ to benefit fully from the use of immersive technologies for learning purposes (although the same applies to teachers, of course). For instance, de Oliveira et al., in their chapter, identify various components of digital competences.

2. Competences

One of the strengths of the book is that several authors make the point that the main educational value of immersive learning environments is for the development of ‘general competences’ such as learning to learn, teamwork, communication, problem solving and decision-making. Astigarraga provides a very good overview of the definition, identification and evaluation of competences, and Isus et al. develop this further with a chapter on evaluating the competences of teamwork and self-management. Larraz and Esteve devote their whole chapter to evaluating digital competence in immersive environments. These chapters will be valuable for anyone interested in competency-based learning, whether or not using immersive learning environments.

3. Key educational principles and affordances of immersive technologies

Another strength of the book is that several authors related the features of immersive environments to possible educational affordances, and the educational principles needed to exploit such affordances. Camacho and Esteve-Gonzáles have a list of 14 educational reasons for using immersive environments for learning and Cervera and Cela-Ranilla have collated from the general research literature about 15 key pedagogical principles ‘to be observed during learning processes’ when using immersive technologies for learning purposes.

4. Planning and implementing virtual learning environments

Towards the end of the book there are several chapters focusing on more practical issues. Marqués et al. describe the planning and implementation of a virtual world built in Sloodle, which combines OpenSim with Moodle, for educating both physical education and business management students. Estevez-González et al. take this further with a chapter on the tools used in Sloodle and the necessary steps needed to integrate OpenSim and Moodle. Lastly, Cela-Ranilla and Estevez-Gonzàlez provide an educational rationale for the design of the project. Garcia and Martin set out a design methodology for an immersive learning environment.

5. Experiences and good practices

The book ends with five chapters that describe actual applications of immersive learning environments, including PolyU developed at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (hotel and tourism management), a review of applications in economics and business courses, the use of an educational platform Virt-UAM developed at Universidad Autònoma de Madrid, and applications in law and psychology, and lastly a review of applications in secondary/high school education.


First, this is a very welcome and timely publication for several reasons:

  • it sets out very clearly the pedagogical rationale for the use of immersive learning environments;
  • it links immersive technologies very strongly to the development of competences;
  • it provides practical advice on the planning and implementation of immersive learning environments;
  • it provides a welcome European perspective on the topic.

From a personal perspective, it complements very nicely my own open, online textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, where, because of space and time issues, I was unable to give this topic the treatment it deserves. Although not an open textbook, it is very accessible, available online for less than three euros ($3-4).

Given the book is mostly written by people for whom English is a second language, the chapters are clearly and well written, mostly free of the European English associated with European Commission projects.

Nevertheless, the European Commission has adopted the term competence rather than competency, which really irritates me, and this term is used throughout the book, when what the authors are really talking about are skills. Competent is an adjective meaning a minimal capacity to do something; incompetent is more frequently used in English English, and it is used to describe inadequacy. What we are really talking about here are skills, not competence. Skills have no limit, while competence tends to be categorical: you either have it or you don’t, which is why competency-based learning often requires 100% pass-rates. But skills such as problem-solving can get better and better, and that’s what we should be striving for in higher education, not a minimal pass requirement.

The editors have done a good job in ensuring that there is a coherence and progression between the different chapters, always a challenge in a multiple-authored book. However, I would have liked a summary chapter from the editors that pulled all the threads together, and also some more information about the authors.

The books strength and its weakness is the academic nature of the book, with more focus on theory, competences and affordances, and less on the actual technology design issues, although to be fair these start to appear at the back of the book. I would have liked to have seen more integration in the writing throughout the book between theory and practice.

The main omission is any discussion of costs in planning and developing immersive learning environments, which are time demanding of both learners and teachers. There are clear economies of scale that need to be employed to justify the high cost of initial design. If a virtual world and allied teaching strategies can be shared across several courses or even disciplines, the cost becomes more acceptable. There is also a high cost for students in terms of the time needed to master the technology and its educational applications if they only get one course in a virtual world. So it is a pity that there was so little discussion of costs and time in the book, and about the transfer of innovation into mainstream practice, which are significant challenges for the wider adoption of immersive technologies in education.

Nevertheless, this is a book I would highly recommend to all concerned about the implications of technology for learning design. Virtual learning environments hold great promise. We need more concerted efforts in higher education to use immersive learning environments, and this book is an essential guide.

Financial Times highlights online business degrees

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from Wikipedia, 2012

Financial Times (2012) Online Learning, March 12

This special edition of the UK-based Financial Times has about a dozen articles about online learning in business schools.

The articles cover a range of the more prestigious business schools now offering blended or fully online programs.

It should be noted that this is a market where cost is a major factor – one school charges $89,000 in tuition fees for its online MBA. However, some prestigious schools also offer online programs in the $25,000 range.

It is interesting to note that in the FT’s ranking of 48 business schools offering online programs, Athabasca University’s executive MBA is the only Canadian school listed. There is also an interview with an Athabasca University student taking their executive MBA

The FT also compares the rankings of online programs within their overall rankings of business schools:

Of the 48 schools featured in this year’s FT Online MBA Listing, 12 have full-time programmes ranked in the world’s top 100 in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2012.’

On the technology side, there is an article on the use of iPads in business education, and also an interesting article on the use of mobile learning in business programs by Carina Paine Schofield: Business schools need to think beyond convention

All in all, this is a useful guide to students thinking of doing an online business degree, since it really doesn’t matter where you live, so long as you meet the institution’s admission requirements. However, be aware that there are many other good schools not mentioned in this edition.

It is also a useful resource for those trying to move their business schools into the 21st century: many of the more prestigious schools are already there. Show it to your Dean!


Launch of Arabic e-learning portal for business education

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© Tony Bates, 2012 Creative Commons License

Curley, N. (2012) Arabic e-Learning Portal Launches, Offering Online Business Education, Wamda, February 8

Jabbar Internet Group has launched through the portal a series of short, accessible tutorial videos in Arabic that teach business skills in easy 15-20 minute segments that fit into a busy working day. Each course costs between US$15-$20.

CEO Ammar Khayyat says:

We have a problem in this part of the world with a lack of continuous learning. People do not typically continue to invest in learning, for several reasons- education is expensive, they don’t have a lot of time after they graduate, and there simply aren’t great resources in Arabic.”

For more information, click here.

Vancouver showcase of online learning innovations available on video

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The Justice Institute of British Columbia and Vancouver Community College hosted an ‘online showcase’ on November 30, 2011, sponsored by the Metro Vancouver Educational Developers Network. Video recordings of each of the sessions are now available from the website.


The videos are bundled into 2 pages:

Parts 1-5:

Parts 6-11:

To look up a specific speaker,click here.


Once again, Tannis Morgan (JIBC) and Karen Belfer (Vancouver Community College) have pulled together a fascinating selection of innovative applications of online learning from the Greater Vancouver Lower Mainland. These kinds of presentations and sharing of experiences are extremely valuable in helping to raise the quality of online learning throughout the area through demonstration and sharing of what is possible.

This year the showcase focused on three quite different areas:

  • Mobile learning
  • Accessibility
  • Post-secondary and beyond

The showcase web site provides a good guide to what’s in the videos, and as there is almost five hours of video here, I can comment on only a small part. (Session descriptions are here)

There were extremely useful sessions for users of Moodle, both in terms of making Moodle more accessible, and making it mobile in user friendly ways (it should be noted that most of the BC post-secondary educational institutions are now using Moodle).

There was also a demonstration of how emergency services (fire, police, paramedics) are using iPads for integrating operational and ‘on-the-job training’ activities. (I was interested to learn that there is now a mobile app that will locate and alert the nearest available person in the area with CPR training and direct them to the scene of the heart attack.) Much of the material from the emergency services program at JIBC is available as OERs.

UBC has pulled together resource materials such as videos, archived samples, and graphics (some going back to 1986) to provide an integrated Virtual Soil Science web site that covers all 10 types of soil.

There were also sessions on teaching public speaking, and also cooking, online.

The student panel provided useful insights into what students liked and disliked about online learning.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as I was at Online Educa Berlin at the same time. However, you can often learn just as much by staying at home, as long as you have people like Tannis and Karen to bring together all the local talent. Making it available as easily accessed video also spreads the word much further. So, if you have similar showcases in your area, please share them with us.