Friday, January 24, 2014

Sir John Daniel on Open and Distance Education

Sir John Daniel, world authority on open, distance and online learning, came to Carleton for a special briefing on the future of online learning, covering topics such as the changing nature of the student body and its use of technology, myths and distractions in online learning, and opportunities for online learning to meet students’ needs.


Many interesting tidbits were offered during Sir John's talk.  I would have loved the opportunity to get into any one of them a bit more, but I still left with some good food for thought.

After opening with the suggestion that post-secondary education is facing turbulent times, Sir John shared some interesting stats about the students taking online courses these days.  Apparently they are generally older than traditional undergraduates, paying more to study, working at the same time, and often immigrants.  Based on all this, they want to have their existing skills recognized, and they want credit courses.

Another interesting point: we tend to think that digital natives will be the ones who embrace online learning the most, but in fact, not only did the older crowd answer the survey more often, but there is no evidence of a divide between them and the younger students when it comes to technology.

So online education won't lock out any particular generation, and it can address many needs of students from all walks of life.  It is difficult to achieve wider access, higher quality, and lower cost at the same time when it comes to post-secondary education, but technology makes it possible.

Some tidbits from the talk:
  • MOOCs: these are technically not higher education, as they lack accreditation in general; the explosion seems to have more to do with the herd instinct than anything else (Mark Guzdial would probably be onside with a lot of what was said about MOOCs)
  • You can't ignore any of these three key components: study materials, student support, and logistics/administration
  • Institutions need to expect blended learning to evolve; what sort of flexibility will be required? Will campus buildings need to be refurbished for new purposes?
  • British Columbia was the first province to offer free, online open textbooks for the 40 most popular post-secondary courses (some of our profs here at Carleton are making their own open access books, too, such as Pat Morin and his data structures book)
  • Student assessment is fundamental to the learning process, and contrary to popular belief, you can actually be more creative with it in online environments
  • Contact North (who hosted this talk) recently published A Guide To Quality in Online Education, which looks like a worthwhile read
If you want to find the slides for this and similar talks, check out Sir John's website.

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