To me, one of the enormous surprises regarding the Browne review of Higher Education funding was the complete absence of any mention of online or blended delivery. Here was a report about the future of the delivery of education at university level, but it missed a trick by omitting the innovative online delivery going on at present. Our recent study into online learning , delivered by the technology assisted lifelong learning centre (TALL) at the University of Oxford, identified more than 2,600 courses already being delivered online in the UK, and worldwide the area is seen as having huge potential for growth.
However journalist Anne Mroz, writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, cautions that:
“Any broadening of provision and innovation in delivering it is welcome. But online distance learning needs careful handling. Problems will arise if courses grow out of financial and political pressures rather than considered educational strategy.”
HEFCE, on behalf of the government, will shortly be publishing the final report of an Online Learning Task Force examining precisely this area of opportunity. The taskforce, chaired by Lynne Brindley of the British Library, has seen evidence from across the sector – including the TALL report cited above and a fascinating study by the National Union of Students.
The Online Learning Task Force has a difficult remit. How do you capture the full experience of university, with all the personal growth and development that this entails, via a web browser? Is it simply a cheaper way to get more students through the system? Who is looking for online learning, and what do they want? Are Kaplan right that technology is the only possible future for higher education?
Ahead of the report, we discuss the issues with David White who led on the TALL report, Richard Hall e-Learning co-ordinator at De Montfort University, and staff and students from the University of Leicester, as part of the latest JISC On Air radio show. The show explores many of the issues around the questions raised above.
Episode 2: Online Distance Learning (Duration: 24:04)