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e-Learning Digest No 149 - Jan 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 January 2017

UK Online Learning Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs and BOCs






[The Guardian; Huffington Post; BBC; The Pie]

I suppose it had to happen: someone in HE is taking a glass-half-full view of Brexit.  HEPI’s Nick Hillman has been looking at the details (such as they are) and concludes it will be, “messy and difficult – but perhaps not as bad as feared in many respects.”  For example, many HEIs are already pursuing creative solutions to address potential issues, and the cheaper pound may mean any decline in EU students is more than offset by a rise in other international students, subject of course to Amber Rudd’s “tougher rules” on student visas.

But long before Brexit comes the Higher Education and Research Bill, which is under pressure from a group of Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers, led by Oxford chancellor Lord Patten.  They claim it is a “ham fisted” attempt to “marketise” the sector and that making it easier to set up new universities will cause standards to plummet, damaging the UK’s reputation for running many of the world’s top universities.  There are more than 700 alternative providers and more than 120 of these run courses eligible for student finance, with the cost of student loans to this sector rising from £94m to £382m between 2010-11 and 2014-15. 

Four men have been sentenced to prison for rigging some 800 English language tests in an effort to help test-takers cheat the UK’s immigration system.  The fraudsters were paid large sums of money to read out the answers during examinations or find substitutes to sit tests on behalf of candidates, a jury at Southwark Crown Court heard.

More than 40 ‘fake degree’ websites have been shut down in a major crackdown by Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD).  The sites closed included those selling authentic-looking certificates using the names of real British universities, or those offering unaccredited distance learning courses.

The Department for Education has launched >a consultation on the guidance it should give to the Institute of Apprenticeships for 2017/18.  The deadline for responses is 31 Jan.



[EdSurge; Coursera; Stephen Downes; Martin Weller; Sam Dick; Audrey Watters; The Economist; Inside Higher Ed]

Harvard and MIT have released an update to their ongoing study to analyse edX learners.  In this latest version, based on data from around 4.5m participants (2.4m unique users) on 290 courses, logging 28m participant-hours, they report that:

  • 245,000 certificates have been issued, but growth levelled off since free certificates of completion were discontinued

  • Currently around 60% of learners pay for a certificate, and spend an average of 29 hours with the courseware to earn it

  • 73% of participants have a degree, 33% are female, 32% of work or used to work as teachers and 29% are from the US

  • Computer Science has the greatest number of participants (21,000), ‘explorers’ (3,200 – who accessed >50% of the content) and certificates (1,500) per course

The Economist takes a broader look at the MOOC marketplace, suggesting that providers still need to resolve issues relating to costs and credentials, and that drop-out rates remain “sky-high” – although Coursera has found that when payment is made (e.g. for its $400 ‘specializations’), completion rates rise from around 10% to 60%.

And Class Central has published its 2016 analysis of the MOOC numbers: 58m learners, 700+ universities providing 6,850 courses.  Coursera has most users (23m), followed by edX (10m), XuetangX (6m) and FutureLearn (5.3m).  It is estimated that Coursera, Udacity, edX have potentially generated around $100m of income in 2016 from assessment, certification, etc.  There has also been a notable shift to more self-paced/non-cohort MOOCs, many of which have almost no forum activity.

A $20k fee does not count as a MOOC but Coursera’s Master of Computer Science in Data Science, offered in conjunction with the University of Illinois, is open for applications to join the May and Aug cohorts.  Each of the eight credit-bearing courses in the MCS-DS curriculum consists of two Coursera online courses, plus additional for-credit material, lessons, activities, projects, assignments and comprehensive examinations, along with guidance from University of Illinois faculty and teaching assistants.  And, in a similar vein, Georgia Tech is partnering with edX to offer an online MSc in Analytics for just $10k.  An initial MOOC-based batch of 250 students will begin in August, in parallel with the $49k campus-based programme.

The EU’s OpenupEd project reports increasing evidence that a distinct European MOOC model is emerging, citing four independent European studies that conclude European HEIs are much more involved in MOOCs than their US counterparts, and that their reasons to invest in MOOCS differs in some aspects as well.  It is argued that these differences might be related to dissimilar higher educational systems, political environments and educational values.  The online article is fairly short but contains a number of useful links.

Two useful papers from the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME): Developing a Strategic Approach to MOOCs (Ferguson et al), based on a meta-analysis of publications from the 29 UK universities connected to the FutureLearn; and Accessibility of MOOCs: Understanding the Provider Perspective (Iniesto et al), based on semi-structured interviews with MOOC platform accessibility managers, software developers, designers and accessibility researchers.

edX has published a list of its top ten most popular MOOCs for 2016, based on learner ratings.  They come from ten different providers and five of the titles relate to computer science.

And as if simple top ten lists weren’t enough, Coursera also provides us with a graph showing which MOOCs are more popular with those in red or blue US states.  Conclusive proof that every US educator, vet and medic is Republican while the computing community is staunchly Democrat.  Who knew?  Who cared?

And Coursera also celebrated its 100,000,000th enrolment on 9 Dec – with a learner in Canada signing up for Peking University’s Advanced Neurobiology MOOC. 

EADTU are trying to build up a picture of European HEI approaches to MOOCs.  If you have time, please spend 15 mins completing their survey, which now closes on 1 Feb.

I was going to report on Zion Market Research’s Global MOOC Market Analysis, but then I read their assessment that “Key players in the global massive open online course market are Instructure, Coursera, Iversity, Udacity and Miriada X.  Other major players include Open2Study, Novoed, Blackboard, Futurelearn and Edx” and decided not to bother.


Commercial News

[The Pie; Steve Parkinson]

Global student placement company, IDP Education, has acquired the Hotcourses Group for £30.1m.  The purchase will add some of the world’s largest education search websites including Whatuni, The Complete University Guide and Hotcourses Abroad to the student recruitment giant’s portfolio.  Around two million users access Hotcourses Group’s database of 500,000 courses from institutions in 48 countries.

Amazon’s cloud storage business AWS has launched re:Start, a new program for IT skills training, specifically in cloud computing, and job placement for young adults and military vets and their spouses, which Amazon has built in partnership with the UK’s Ministry of Defence, the Prince’s Trust, and QA Consulting.  The scheme kicks off in March and initially aims to offer placements for 1,000 people.


Lifelong Learning is Becoming an Economic Imperative

[John Whitehead]

A new report from The Economist claims that technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment, and that faint outlines of such a system are now emerging.  It’s a very readable global (mostly US) view, with a particular emphasis on IT skills, and far too many facts and figures (e.g. 47% of existing US jobs are susceptible to automation) to start summarising here.


Why Faculty Still Don’t Want to Teach Online

[Stephen Downes]

Robert Ubell looks at the current status of online teaching in the US, suggesting it is often viewed as a dangerous and distracting career move: “Why would you go online when your future depends on publishing results of your research, not engaging in virtual instruction?”  He also reports that those who are most resistant tend to be faculty members who are older, more senior and have the least familiarity with online learning.  That said, he believes online learning can deliver many benefits (including comparable or even superior learning outcomes) and will – given the right levels of support – continue to grow.  Separately, in eCampus Ontario’s 2016-18 strategic plan, when students were asked what they wanted, 90% would choose online delivery over in-class because it “allows me to have control over the time and place I learn.”


Online Courses: What do Non-traditional Students Value?

[Stephen Downes]

US researchers categorised more than 3,000 students from 31 colleges (all of whom were enrolled in at least one online for-credit course) into three groups: traditional, moderately non-traditional, and highly non-traditional, and analysed their perceptions of eight factors relating to online course quality.  All groups rated Assessment and Measurement quality most highly of the eight factors, but traditional students rated lower than non-traditional for six other factors: Course Overview/Introduction; Course Technology; Learning Objectives; Resources and Materials; Learner Engagement; and Learner Support.


Do We Need To Know About Learning Theory Or Not?


Writing a piece about learning theories is a bit like making an acceptance speech – no matter how many people you thank, some people will get sniffy about those who were missed out.  Dan Williams takes the plunge and gives us eight links, most of which link to other links.  It’s not a complete picture of course, and the provenance of some of the narrative is at times unclear, but it’s as reasonable a starting point as any if you fancy dipping a toe in the waters.  What Williams doesn’t really do is explain why, as a professional designer, he thought the question even needed asking.


A Shift Towards Learning Design


Edward Maloney believes digital technologies and online delivery mean much greater attention needs to be paid to the design of learning, leading to an increase in demand for instructional designers, although he notes a shift away from ‘instructional’ towards ‘learning’ in HE, reflecting a necessarily more student-centred focus.  Regardless of title, he also reflects on his own experiences of changing emphases at Georgetown University: “We replace pre-set sequences with adaptive paths; we minimize formality and embrace agility; and look for evidence not just that our students have met our objectives, but that they are making meaning from them.”


Pearson Learning Design Principles


In a move that attracted many online comments, Pearson has released a 102-page book of the Learning Design Principles it applies within its own organisation.  Unsurprisingly, much of the content is widely known with learning design circles so Pearson is not exactly giving away the family silver, but it’s been generally acknowledged as a positive gesture.  Furthermore, whereas much commercial learning design is often based on previous experience, Pearson has been synthesising existing research from the learning sciences over the past three years to create its list of 45 principles.


New VLE Data From Civitas Asks, ‘Who’s Likely to Succeed in College?’


Civitas Learning’s second Community Insights report, which looks at 4m student records from 68 client institutions, asks the question: “which LMS engagement or activity was most predictive of success?”  They found the four most predictive types of LMS activities (all of which were variables derived from raw data) were:

  • Attendance - unique days visiting the online course (not count of logins)

  • LMS Grades - interim grades in the LMS

  • Course Material Engagement

  • Discussion Board/Forum Engagement


Siri for Higher Education Aims to Boost Student Engagement


Marguerite McNeal reports on a pilot project at BI Norwegian Business School to use chatbots to respond to routine student enquiries and prompt students to complete assignments, read news articles or post to a class discussion forum, thus mimicking some of the tasks of a teaching assistant.  “Students have a lot of the same questions over and over again.  They’re looking for the answers to easy administrative questions, and they have similar type of questions regarding their subjects each year,” says Erik Bøylestad Nilsen, an advisor in edtech and innovation at BI Norwegian Business School.  “Chatbots help get rid of some of the noise.  Students are able to get to answers as quick as possible and move on.”


UK Needs Better 5G Rollout


The National Infrastructure Commission says the rollout of 5G must be handled better than that of 4G, with far fewer dead spots.  The UK is currently ranked 54th in the world in terms of 4G coverage – behind Peru, Bulgaria and Romania – although implementation is not yet complete.  According to OFCOM, “Our rules mean that virtually all UK premises must receive a 4G signal by the end of next year, and we're also making more airwaves available to boost mobile broadband.”  5G is likely to be rolled out between 2020 and 2025.




And Finally…

[Richard Osman]

If you fondly remember scanning the MW, LW and VHF bands on your transistor radio to discover foreign radio stations, you can now be just as sad, but digitally (although with occasional analogue hiss) via Radio Garden’s interactive digital globe.

While waiting for the end of Dry January, you were probably busy planning your next pub crawl of every hostelry in the UK and perhaps thinking to yourself, “I wonder if any Canadian scientists have already worked out the shortest route?”  Well, as luck would have it…


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