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e-Learning Digest No 152 - Apr 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
18 April 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[THE; The PIE; The Guardian; FE Week; The Independent]

UK universities benefit from about >£1.2bn a year in EU research funding, but the Government’s determination to sever relationships with the European Court of Justice could scupper any hope the country's universities have of remaining part of European Union research programmes post-Brexit.  Prof Chris Husbands, Sheffield Hallam’s VC said because Horizon 2020 and similar programmes have disputes handled within the ECJ, it was “difficult to see” how a solution could be found that allows continued participation unless the government turns out to be more flexible on the ECJ in relation to research.  However, the European University Association’s Dr Thomas Jorgensen believes, “If you have goodwill, you can solve these issues.  And the higher education and research issues are really among the least complicated [in Brexit]”.

However, at last month’s International HE Forum, DIT’s parliamentary under-secretary of state Mark Garnier claimed the government aims to “harness the power of the UK’s education sector” in future trade deals – particularly those involving China, Brazil and Malaysia as countries. “where the GREAT campaign is pursuing thousands of export opportunities.”  He also noted that “Ninety percent of global growth will take place outside of Europe and educators must be open to that.”  Also speaking was Paul Wellings, VC at the University of Wollongong in Australia, where education is the third largest export and there is a clear government mandate to increase offshore enrolments.

Hefce has warned of the risks facing the sector if overseas student fees decline, believing that universities are too optimistic about international student projections.  Areas of potential risk include the tightening of UK immigration policy, a downturn in the global economy and increasing competition from worldwide markets for outwardly mobile students.  Hefce believes the HE sector is particularly vulnerable to changes in the Chinese student market.

A poll by UUK finds that 73% of the British public would like to see the same number or more international students coming to study in the UK, after discovering the contribution they make to the economy and the jobs they generate; only 26% regard them as ‘immigrants’.  A further 75% also believe international students should be able to work in the UK for a fixed period of time after they have graduated, rather than returning immediately to their home country.

The Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency are merging into a single body – >The Education and Skills Funding Agency – which will sit within the DfE and begin operating this month.  The EFA previously managed funding for 16–19 provision, while the SFA financed training for older learners.  Their merger has been broadly welcomed by the FE sector as it should reduce confusion and duplication that previously existed between the two.  The current chief executive of both agencies, Peter Lauener, has announced that he intends to retire following the merger and he will also stand aside as shadow chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships once a permanent replacement has been found.

The Guardian reports that a growing number of UK university students are cheating in exams with the help of technological devices such as mobile phones, smart watches and hidden earpieces.  The number of instances has risen by 42% over the last four years but experts suspect the true figure is much higher because devices such as mini cameras and micro earbuds are difficult to detect.

UK universities are ranked top in eight subject areas in international rankings published by QS, based on academic reputation, employer reputation, research citations per paper and research impact.  Oxford claims four of those top slots, although Cambridge is no longer top in any subjects.

The Open University Business School has been ranked first amongst UK business schools and joint seventh globally for its online MBA by CEO Magazine in its annual Global MBA Rankings, profiling MBA, EMBA and Online MBA programmes.

Peking University is opening the HSBC Business School at the former Open University Oxford regional office, Foxton Hall.  Students, expected to be mostly from the UK and Europe, will spend a year at the Oxford campus, and another year at the PHBS Shenzen campus, in southern China.



[Class Central; Inside Higher Ed; EdSurge; Audrey Watters; University World News; Open Culture]

FutureLearn content and quizzes used to be free but, under a new pricing model, that is only the case for up to 14 days after the course concludes.  To gain unlimited access to content, quizzes/assignments and course tests, students must now pay the Certificate of Achievement fee of £24-£69.  FutureLearn’s Chief Product Officer, Matt Walton, explains “Research we carried out showed that a certificate on its own doesn’t offer enough value for money and that some people don’t want or need a certificate.  That’s why we want to create a more useful package of features that we think provides great value to as many people as possible.”  Stephen Downes notes that this follows a trend set by Coursera and edX and he wonders at what point will we have to “relinquish the name MOOC and go back to using the original product category name: commercial courseware”.

Coursera has set a goal of offering 15 to 20 degree programmes by the end of 2019 and has just announced new offerings in pursuit of that target.  HEC Paris plans to launch a master’s degree in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which already offers two degrees on Coursera, will now launch a master’s degree in accounting.  UIUC also offers an iMBA programme which it says has exceeded its expectations, enrolling about 500 students across three cohorts since launching in Jan 16.

A price war has broken out as four Australian universities – the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide and Curtin University – compete to offer students a MOOC-based pathway to complete a quarter of their masters degree online at a steep discount.  These four are among 22 universities around the world, including MIT and Columbia, that are using edX MicroMasters programmes in this way.

Coursera estimates that nearly 20% of its learners study their MOOCs on a smartphone or tablet, so they’re rolling out new features to ensure that “95%+ of our 2000 courses can be taken from beginning to end via our apps.”  Also available will be transcripts, mobile notes, and personalised reminders.

Coursera’s Signature Track was a significant early technological breakthrough when it launched in 2013: by analysing each learner’s unique keystroke/typing pattern (“keystroke dynamics”), it significantly reduced the chances of cheating by remote learners using an associate to complete and submit work.  However, it now seems to have removed the need for verification every time an assignment is submitted, although learners still have to undergo a verification step once if they want earn a course or Specialization certificate.

Not quite a MOOC, but a $90 fee for Masterclass’s Steve Martin Teaches Comedy puts it close.  The article asks the inevitable question – ‘can comedy be taught?’ – but doesn’t discuss whether 25 video lessons are the best way to do it, or whether it naturally follows that a top comedian will automatically make a top teacher.


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; BBC; Wired Sussex]

The University of Exeter has entered into a 10-year partnership with Keypath Education to deliver a set of online master's degree programs in finance and management, international business, and marketing.  Starting this Sep, the courses will offer students equivalent quality materials, teaching and assessment as on-campus students, but delivered online and supported by a network of academics and student advisers.  Courses will be delivered over two-years and will be designed to fit alongside work and family commitments.

Pay attention MBA students.  Your company – let’s call it Pearsoff ­– has announced falling US sales, cancelled standardised testing contracts, 4,000 job cuts last year and a £2.6bn pre-tax loss this year.  As chief executive, do you award yourself?

  1. A pay cut

  2. A pay freeze

  3. A 20% pay increase

Learning Technologies Group (LTG) – parent company of Brighton-based LEO – has acquired NetDimensions, an enterprise solutions provider of talent and Learning Management Systems.  The move will enhance the group’s offering to customers and its global reach, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  CEO, Jonathan Satchell, commented: “This is a momentous step in LTG’s journey that … takes us closer to our goal of creating the world’s leading learning technologies firm.”  Steady on Jonathan, I’m sure it will be many years until you’re making losses on the scale of Pearson.


The University of Maryland is Unbundling Itself

[Inside Higher Ed]

The University of Maryland University College gets nearly all of its funding from tuition fees and, when numbers dipped earlier this decade, it decided to strengthen its academic core – “what you teach, who teaches it and how we teach it” – and try to monetize other services to ensure its survival and keep fees competitive.  Based on recommendations from an Ideation Team comprising entrepreneurs and board members, UMUC has spun off its Office of Analytics, which in 2015 became the data analytics company HelioCampus.  Now its 100-strong IT department will form a company called AccelerEd, and other units may follow.


Mission U


MissionU intends to replace traditional US college with an intensive 12-month course, designed in close coordination with well-known employers, that is initially free.  After graduation, students pledge to give up 15% of their income for three years once they land a job that pays $50,000 or more.  Courses will run online, although classes will be held at set times in virtual classrooms.  Students will be admitted to the program in cohorts of about 25, all of whom will live in the same area so that they can have an opening three-day orientation and monthly in-person meetups – and the first cohort should start in September, probably in San Francisco.  The first quarter of the course will focus on “foundation skills”, including Excel, public speaking and business writing.  The second will take students through “a deep process of introspection and self-discovery that help them define their sense of purpose and where they want to point their compass in life”.  The third involves a “deep dive on your major” and the final quarter will be spent in teams solving real-world problems set by partner companies, and individually improving recruitment skills.


The Importance of Learning Design in Educational Video


“When organizations decide to produce an online course, many quickly jump into questions of video production and start lining up a film crew … Yet, until we get the learning design right, these questions about production values are premature” because the video components have to fit into the overall design and pedagogic approach for the whole course, writes Amy Ahearn.  Based on her recent experiences with an NPR broadcaster, a Wharton professor and the Head of TED, she describes four styles of video and how to produce them:

  • “Relate” videos get students to feel connected to the instructor, and to reflect on why they are studying

  • “Narrate” videos share stories or case studies that provide context, illustrate points and make learning stick

  • “Demonstrate” videos illustrate how to do and apply something in a step-by-step way by pulling back the curtain on invisible phenomena or procedures

  • “Debate” videos surface and address misconceptions or competing points of view, changing how students think about a topic


Pre-questions Boost Video Learning


The ‘testing effect’ is well understood by psychologists and educators – answering questions after a learning intervention leads to better understanding and retention than simply trying to assimilate content – and it is a technique widely practised in OU modules.  Now researchers have shown beneficial effects of pre-questioning: attempting to answer questions before a learning intervention.  No assessment is made of pre-question responses and no feedback is given to students, but the process of attempting the questions is thought to act as an “orienting device” that directs students to look for certain information.  In a post-test comprising 6 of the pre-questions and 6 unseen, students exposed to the pre-questions performed significantly better (on the pre- and the fresh questions) than those in a control group.


Attitudes to Lifelong Learning

[University Alliance]

Factors and motivations affecting attitudes towards and propensity to learn through the life course was first published by the Government Office for Science last autumn, but has just been updated. 

The authors note that “The best single predictor of later participation in education is earlier participation (Tuijnman 1991)” and a telling statistic is that, of adults who have done no learning since leaving school, 82.5% report no intention to do so in the future.  The paper reports propensity to participate is strongly influenced by family experience (parental involvement has four times the impact of social class), earlier education experience, expectations at work and significant life-stage transitions, whereas access to technology has only modest impact.


TEL Coming of Age?

[Wonkhe; EdTech Magazine; Jisc]

Wonkhe reports on the growth and success of TEL across UK HE, noting that the University of Northampton will have no lecture theatres in its new Waterside Campus.  It also refers to its recent report, copublished with HEPI, Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology-enhanced higher education? that looks in more detail at some of the opportunities and challenges. 

One of the benefits of TEL is access to predictive analytics to enhance student performance and success, and EdTech Magazine gives some analytics examples from the US, together with some of the attendant security concerns.  However, Jisc reports that >80% of UK FE students would be happy to have their learning data collected if it improved their grades, and more than half would be happy to have their learning data collected if it stopped them from dropping out.


We Need Librarians Today More Than Ever


Marcus Banks – a former librarian – writes a completely impartial piece on why we need Librarians more than ever in today’s world of information overload.  He suggests three key services: increasing access to popular e-books and online research; determining reliable sources of information; and ensuring that online data and web sites remain available in the future. 


Online Learning Readiness Survey

[Inside Higher Ed]

Academics at Coastal Carolina University believe they have developed a pre-course assessment survey that, unlike many others, really shows what skills (and gaps) their students have.  The eLearnReady survey asks 40 questions in nine categories: self-motivation, self-management, feedback, interaction, reading visual text, reading visual graphics, listening, technology and course management.  Once completed, each student is rated low, medium or high for each category.  In the areas they received lower scores, the programme provides written study tips and video tutorials.  Tutors also receive a report indicating where extra help may be needed.


OU Grant Will Make STEM Education More Inclusive

The Open University is leading a £480k two-year, Hefce-funded collaborative project to share and promote inclusive educational practices in STEM disciplines across UK universities.  The proportion of OU students with disabilities has increased year-on-year since 2011, reaching 16% by May 2016 (14% in STEM subjects).  OU STEM has also seen a rise in the proportion of declared disabilities that relate to mental health (22% of declarations) and specific learning difficulties (16%), making access to learning resources and social inclusion within group learning activities critical for success.


Digital Capability Resources


Jisc has launched a new suite of digital capability resources including a briefing, organisational approaches to digital capability, an organisational model and a step-by-step practical guide to help build digital capability in your organisation.  The resources linked to from the briefing include:

Further resources to support organisational approaches to digital capability include:

These, and more, resources are all available from the Building digital capability project page.


Open Access Publishing

[The Chronicle]

The European Commission is considering replicating an open-access publishing platform launched recently by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  It was also announced last month that the US Association of College and Research Libraries will be integrating an Open Access Button into existing interlibrary-loan arrangements, helping researchers gain free access to copies of articles.  Now comes Unpaywall – similar in functionality to the Open Access Button, and also open source, but operating as a simple browser extension.  When an Unpaywall user lands on the page of a research article, the software scours thousands of institutional repositories, preprint servers, and websites like PubMed Central to see if an open-access copy of the article is available.  If it is, users can click a small green tab on the side of the screen to view a PDF.


IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies


A special issue of >IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies (Vol 10, Issue 1) is devoted to learning analytics.  There are nine papers on a variety of analytics themes, including one that looks specifically at student activities and performance across 17 Moodle based courses.

And the latest issue of IRRODL Vol 18(2) includes papers on MOOCs, OERs, Social Media and distance tutoring.



[Donald Clark; Jisc]

WildFire claims to be “the world’s first AI driven content creation tool” – point it at any document, PowerPoint, web page (e.g. Wikipedia) or video to automatically create interactive online learning in just minutes.  It has the support of the UfI Charitable Trust, Donald Clark as CEO (and chief evangelist) and won the edtech startup competition at last month’s Jisc Digifest.




And Finally…

[Wired; EdSurge]

This must be the ultimate solution looking for a problem – draw a freehand line on your desktop or mobile and Land Lines will find scour a database of more than 50,000 Google satellite images to find a matching coastline, road, river, etc.  Because…?  [Wired]

On a more serious note, Jay Lynch and Nathan Martin examine false positives in education research and whether “null hypothesis significance testing is an epistemic dead end”.  To nobody’s great surprise, they find it’s possible to show almost anything with statistics, as the TylerVigen site demonstrates. 


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