online learning and distance education resources



Outlook for online learning in 2013: online learning comes of age
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2013/01/08

As promised, Tony Bates has tallied a number of predictions for 2013 and beyond, each with probabilities attached. Some of them are vague and probably ("online learning starts to become a core activity", "hybrid learning... which I mean the re-design of courses to integrate the best of online and campus-based teaching"), some of them are unsuprising ("the evolution of MOOCs: the trough of disillusionment") and some of them are pretty niche ("online learning increasingly appearing as strategic initiatives within institutional plans"). I think the more significant predictions concern outsourcing ("some institutions outsourcing all or a significant part of their online learning activities to organizations such as Academic Partnerships, Pearson or its subsidiaries, or 2U") and open textbooks.

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Why predicting online learning developments is risky but necessary
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2013/01/07

Tony Bates argues, convincingly, that we cannot avoid making predictions, not even in higher educations (after all, our jobs may depend on them), but if we must, then we should do them well. He points out how little data we have to work on, and considers some other authors (mentioning in passing how inaccurate Horizon Report has been over the years).

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Important developments in online learning in India in 2012
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/12/24

India continues to be an interesting place to watch for developments in online learning. Tony Bates highlights a couple important developments from 2012: first, the appearance of very low cost computers, and second, he emergence of Indian e-learning content. So what does that say for the future. India still faces challenges - one is a way to leverage the country's millions of mobile phones to support learning. But beyond mobile phones, India still faces infrastructure challenges. A lack of reliable internet is a cjhallenge. And "It is hard to see how MOOCs developed from North American institutions are going to have a major impact in India. They are likely to be of value mainly to those already with a high level of education." Only 125 million people, mostly well-educated, are fluent in English. Indian e-learning will depend on Indian technology and Indian content.

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Online learning in 2012: a retrospective
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/12/17

Tony Batesis as always well worth reading, including this take on the year that was. He writes, "The media love to focus on the ivy league universities to the almost total neglect of the rest of the system (the cult of the superstar). Here is an appalling irony. The top tier research universities have by and large ignored online learning for the last 15 years. Suddenly though when MIT, Stanford and Harvard jump in, all the rest follow like lemmings. MOOCs are seen as an easy, low risk way for these universities not only to catch up, but to jump into the front line. But they are hugely wrong. Moving from broadcasting to learning is not going to be easy."

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The money pours in to fund online learning start-ups – while the public system starves
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/10/30

One wonders where those of us who support a public education system will find funding for research and development. Certainly, not from the same funders who are underwriting enterprises like Coursera and Udacity. Even if they were willing to fund outside the Harvard-MIT-Stanford nexus, which is unlikely, they tend to sustain ventures with a commercial intent, not those that serve the public good. As Tony Bates writes, "This year some of the online start-ups that have received venture capital funding are:

  • Udacity: $15 million this week; total: $21 million
  • Coursera: $16 million in April
  • 2U (formerly 2tor): $26 million in April
  • Codeacademy: $10 million in June."

The money meanwhile to support public education is not forthcoming, he says. " The California two year college system has undergone nearly $1 billion of cuts since 2008, resulting in a waiting list of 470,000 students who cannot get into classes. The California State University system meanwhile is outsourcing most of the services for CalState Online to Pearson." And in time, "these privatized, American online companies will start to gnaw away at the funding behind public education systems in countries outside the United States." Where is the Canadian response?

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The global attack on public higher education
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/10/01

Tony Bates points to the decline in funding that it is making it increasingly difficult to sustain public education. While I have my criticisms of the university system as it exists today, and while I think that professors and administrators have not helped the cause of public education, it should be clear that the cause of the funding crisis lies outside the university system. We all, I think, know exactly what the problem is. "Banks over-extended themselves in silly, unsecured loans that drove mainly the construction industry. Now public servants such as teachers, civil servants, and health workers are being told their salaries and pensions will be cut, and there will be reduced funding for post-secondary education,  in order to pay off the massive debt the government has occurred in bailing out their banks. As Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas says in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps': 'This is the perfect solution: privatize the profits and nationalize the losses.'"

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California’s two year college system in deep trouble
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/08/31

Tony Bates is exactly right: "with the California State University system now outsourcing online learning to Pearson, the destruction of public post-secondary education in California is well on its way. Republicans, China and other economic rivals, and future immigrant workers who will take the jobs of unskilled Californians may rejoice, but it is the people of California who will be hurt the most." The purpose of online learning is not, to my mind, to privatize learning. Quite the opposite: it is to make a public system sustainable and accessible to all. But a failure of imagination (or perhaps deliberate policy) on the part of educational and political leaders is undermining public education and pushing us toward the privatized option.

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Is online learning really cracking open the public post-secondary system?
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/07/13

Tony Bates returns after a month away and jumps into the fray surrounding open learning and impending reform of the post-secondary education system. I like the lessons he draws form his readings:

  • Lesson 1: No president with an activist Board of Governors is now safe if the university does not have a clear institutional strategy for online learning.
  • Lesson 2: MOOCs may be the answer – but what is the question? May there be better solutions to the question?
  • Lesson 3: Governments are increasingly not going to accept the status quo or business as usual.
  • Lesson 4: Prepare and train your faculty to deal with change and innovation in teaching, and in particular for teaching online
  • Lesson 5: If public institutions do not respond effectively to the challenge of change, they will eventually be swept aside by the private sector – and will deserve it.

Lesson 1 is a bit of a surprise but I think we have been writing about the rest for some time now (I wonder whether Bates has managed to read my ebook - I was hoping he might review it, but maybe not).

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The status of online learning in Canada in 2012
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/06/13

Tony Bates reviews this new report released by Contact North on the state of online learning in Canada. Major points:

  • Contact North estimates there are approximately just under one million online course registrations equivalent to about 100,000 FTEs
  • there is a good deal of innovation and development of online learning, but it is mainly at the grass roots level
  • quality still varies considerably (although not as much as in the USA)
  • a lack of strategic focus on online learning at national, provincial and above all institutional levels threatens its future development and may well result in Canada being left behind by international competitors.

Bates also compares this report to the 2001 report of the Federal Government’s Advisory Committee for Online Learning. The report (like all reports before and since, it seems) called for a national strategy, a program in 'learnware development', and a pan-Canadian initiative. None of these have been implemented, and it is not likely they will ben

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The world’s largest supplier of free online learning?
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/05/02

Tony Bates reminds us that the world of elearning is larger than most of us can comprehend. "Who do you think is the largest supplier of free online learning? MIT? Stanford? Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learn Initiative? iTunesU? The UK’s OpenLearn? The Khan Academy? The University of the People? Well, what about ALISON? Who, you may ask, is ALISON? is 'the world’s leading free online learning resource for basic and essential workplace skills. ALISON provides …. interactive multimedia courseware for certification and standards-based learning.'" ALISON may be free, but it's not open - materials are not available for downloading, and the site demands a registration before course content can be viewed.

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One-on-one online tutoring at $28 an hour
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/03/26

So what kind of money will be made in the education of the future? If you're thinking one-to-one services will be where the big money is, think again. "Students may prepay for a plan or purchase tutoring by the hour at $27.99 per hour. In addition, the tutoring sessions are recorded and archived, allowing students to revisit previous sessions at no additional cost from their personalized video archive." That's the best-case; Tony Bates remarks "So $28 an hour seems a high price for individual online tutoring for school kids, especially when you can get the Khan Academy for free." Of the $28 per hour, some of this goes to the tutor, and a good chunk goes to the company for advertising, host services and account management. If anyone's getting rich, it's the person managing massive tutor farms with thousands of tutors. Nice picture. Today: Total:140 [Comment] [Direct Link]

A report on online learning and educational productivity: disappointed!!!!
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/03/22

I couldn't help but chuckle after reading this review by Tony Bates of Bakia, M., Shear, L. Toyama, Y. and Lasseter, A. (2012) Understanding the implications of online learning for educational productivity (Washington DC: Department of Education Office of Educational Technology). The authors conclude, "a review of the available research that examined the impact of online learning on educational productivity for secondary school students was found to be lacking. No analyses were found that rigorously measured the productivity of an online learning system relative to place-based instruction in secondary schools." However, as Bates notes, the absence of any evidence at all does not prevent the authors from listing nine ways to improve productivity, including broadening access, peronalizing learning, increasing student motivation, and more. As Bates writes, the main take-away here is that "it’s not a good idea to set up such a rigorous standard for the design of research that the research can’t be done – especially if the taxpayer is paying for it." You can find the report here. Today: Total:166 [Comment] [Direct Link]

A student guide to studying online
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/03/06

More goodness from Tony Bates as he outlines the nature and purpose of guides to online studying. "Well designed courses do provide strong guidelines for when work, and what kind of work (writing assignments, tests or online class discussion), needs to be done. Poorly designed courses place much more onus on the student to organize their work, although a well designed program will deliberately encourage more and more independence and self-management as students progress through the program." Today: Total:208 [Comment] [Direct Link]

More reflections on MOOCs and MITx
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/03/05

Tony Bates offers at once a response to my post on MOOCs and brings in a critique from the traditional perspective. The response? That MOOCs follow in a well-established tradition: "They belong philosophically within the context of thinkers such as R. H. Tawney, Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire, who believed strongly in self-education, as part of their broader socialist views on equality, the need to open access to knowledge, and to educate the workers." And the critique, from an unnamed university administrator: "Who will benefit? It seems that those who meet the standards of discussion and the hidden requirements [of the presenters] can exchange and enhance their knowledge." Today: Total:152 [Comment] [Direct Link]

European universities: re-form or die; but what about Canada?
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/02/21

I'll begin by echoing Tony Bates about "the stupidity of severe austerity measures to pay off bad bets by banks and bad decisions by governments who wouldn’t face reality" and like him move on from there. Tony Bates talks about the production of graduates for whom there are no jobs, but as Daniel Lemire suggests, simply producing PhDs won't solve the math an engineering shortage either - you have to produce paying jobs, not newly minted graduates. And that it is these jobs that are in short supply, especially in regions practicing austerity. But not just that - "The current system is unsustainable from a financial and quality perspective." So there are going to be changes, even in Canada. more on this later. Today: Total:118 [Comment] [Direct Link]

Stephen Downes’ overview of e-learning: and a little history lesson
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/02/16

Tony Bates offers some nice words about my recent talk and mentions some work that took place even before the timeline I offered (which began 20 or so years ago). He writes,
- "In particular I would like to recognize the pioneering work of Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz (who) developed a networked collaborative learning approach that they called computer-mediated communication (CMC), which they used as a blended learning model, using NJIT’s own computer network...
- "In the early 1980s the Open University in the United Kingdom developed an audio-graphics system called Cyclops that worked over the public telephone system for delivery through its regional study centres
- "Staff at the University of Guelph in Ontario... in 1983 developed a text-based online collaborative learning tool called CoSy that worked over telephone systems."

Interestingly, I worked with all three systems he describes here (and have mentioned each in passing over the years). As a student, I took part in John A. Baker's CMC-supported philosophy of mind class in 1986 at the University of Calgary. I actually developed an audio-graphics course for Athabasca University in 1994 (though I considered the use of telephone lines to deliver audio a bit of a hack). And of course Athabasca used CoSy in those years, which I absolutely hated (that was part of the resason I set up my own BBS). Not to downplay these important developments, but none of these is internet learning - they all used private networks or mainframes. So they're all part of 'generation 0', to my mind.

But Bates quite correctly notes the big debate at the time. "The very first article in the then new Journal of Distance Education in 1986 was entitled 'Computer‑assisted learning or communications: which way for information technology in distance education?' (Bates, 1986). This argued that the use of IT for communication between teachers and learners was far more important than trying to use technology to manage learning in a behaviourist way." He also mentions the 'massive online discussions hosted by OU, and similarly, I remember massive email courses ('introduction to the internet' or some such thing) subscribed by thousands of people (I wish I could remember them in more detail, or had a reference). Today: Total:130 [Comment] [Direct Link]

Will MITx work?
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/02/16

MITx, as everyone knows by now, has launched its free open courses in pilot phase. As Tony Bates notes, the online course is 'fully automated'. So what does this mean for the future of online learning? Bates writes, "automated online courses are not new; in fact the main form of computer-aided learning in the 1970s was programmed learning, based on behavioristic principles of punishment (failure) and reward (positive feedback). However, in the 1980s there was a move away from behavioristic approaches to teaching, at least in post-secondary education, because it did not develop critical thinking skills." And so, he writes, "I am trying to ignore my gut reaction that this is in fact a step 30 years backward in e-learning, and I wish to give this very interesting experiment the benefit of the doubt."

And then he sets up the conditions for success: "making such courses open is terrific, but ONLY if they lead to engineers with the same quality as those who are privileged to be inside the tent." But how now are we to evaluate the quality - with the same behavioristic principles of punishment and reward? What if many more people graduate, because far fewer drop out, but with the result that the overall graduating class has a lower average grade? I really question the making of 'quality' the sole criterion of success (and to be fair Bates openly questions whether we could accept graduates who 'aren’t quite as good', whatever that means). Today: Total:160 [Comment] [Direct Link]

Book review: Quality assurance in distance education and e-learning
Tony Bates Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/02/09

Tony Bates reviews a book that "provides comprehensive coverage of the practice and applications of quality assurance in distance education and some elements of e-learning around the world." He expresses disappointment because "the book does not touch on the greatest area of application of e-learning, which is in the traditional campus-based universities and two year colleges." I'm not really sure these fall properly under the heading of "distance education and e-learning." But Bates explains, "We don’t need to build a bureaucracy around this (quality in learning), but there does need to be some mechanism, some way of calling institutions when they fail to meet these standards. However, we should also do the same for campus-based teaching."
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Sky’s the limit: the world’s cheapest touch-screen tablet
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2012/01/02

In a year that was very good for educational technology, Tony Bates says this was one of the best educational technology stories. It's hard to disagree. "Datawind, a relatively small Canadian company based in Montreal, has won an Indian government contract to produce a 7 inch touchscreen tablet named Aakash that costs $52 to manufacture and will sell, with Indian government subsidy, for $35 for universities, colleges and high schools in India. The tablet runs on Google’s Android software." This is of huge significance. "India already has a thriving e-learning software and content development industry. Expect this to take off in the next year or so as universities, colleges and schools start demanding content for the tablets." Today: Total:136 [Comment] [Direct Link]

E-learning in 2011: a retrospective
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2011/12/14

Tony Bates offers a useful overview of events in e-learning in 2011, and while his post as a whole is worth reading, the best bit is near the end, where he nails the ke problem with open educational resources (OERs) Properly So-Called: "Yes, content is becoming more readily accessible, but what really matters to many learners is open access to and interaction with quality faculty or instructors, leading to recognized qualifications, and many institutions that proclaim the principle of open content deny open access to learners, either through too expensive tuition fees or through too rigorous entry requirements. This is the reality of limited resources." So there you go - OERs are still for those who can afford to pay for them. Today: Total:102 [Comment] [Direct Link]

Beware ‘open access’ scam: Public Service UK
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2011/12/13

Tony Bates writes to warn about a scam wherein a magazine - apparently it's Public Service Review - calls an author to offer excellent placement of an article in an upcoming issue. "I was then told," he writes, "that I would be expected to pay £6,000 to have the article ‘placed’." It's not uncommon. Those 'gurus' you hear on the airline radio? They paid to be there. I get regular emails, apparently legit, advertising opportunities for placement of my interview or recording in an airline's audio channel (for only $2,750). And, of course, it is well known that conferences have pay to speak deals with sponsors. But more than simply the speaker being ripped off, as Bates suggests, I would say it's the reader, listener or audience member being ripped off, because they are giving their good time to something that, unknown to them, is essentially a paid advertisement. Today: Total:178 [Comment] [Direct Link]

Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No. 2: Corporate Learning
Tony Bates online learning and distance education resources 2011/12/06

Another Online Educa Berlin has come and gone and this two part summary (part one, part two) from Tony Bates is a useful summary. Two things that I picked out of the post that were of interest to me: first, the idea that 'improving efficiency' was not the main priority for corporate e-learning, a change, as Bates notes, from a few years ago; and second, the question of what counts as 'success' in the phrase 'benchmarking from success': "how well does that work when many of these successful organizations themselves are under threat from new competitors who by definition are not yet considered successful but are competing because they do things differently?" For more from Online Educa, see Jo McLeay, who highlights Learnfizz ("enables you to find and organise the myriad of free learning resources"); the Open Classroom; the Pontydysgu live ds106 and Question Time podcasts; and Hans de Zwart on the opening plenary. Today: Total:132 [Comment] [Direct Link]


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