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e-Learning Digest No 160 - Dec 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
19 December 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops  

The University of Greenwich runs an annual programme of 1hr public lectures on contemporary issues in teaching, learning and assessment.  These will be held at their Greenwich campus in Queen Anne Court Rm 065 between 5-6pm; pre-booking is not required and attendance is free of charge [Simon Walker].

  • Tue 30 Jan - Associate Prof Steve Wheeler on ‘Developing Digital Capabilities’

  • Thu 8 Mar - WonkHE editor, Mark Leach on ‘Future directions of UK Higher Education Policy’

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs

IBM’s Cognitive Class offers 60 short, self-paced, badged training courses on topics relating to Machine Learning, AI and Big Data, plus access to tool sets used within them. [Tony Hirst]







[Peter Horrocks; THE; Avril Jameson; Steve Parkinson; The Guardian; HEA; Wonkhe]

Peter Horrocks discusses Fixing The Broken Market In Part-Time Study in a new report that identifies the main benefits to the economy and society of supporting PT HE, discusses failures that affect our capacity to deliver these benefits, and proposes solutions to these failures.  Whilst acknowledging that institutions  need to improve, particularly by becoming more commercial, employer-focussed and flexible, he believes there are a number of areas where the UK Government could make improvements ranging from better guidance, FE-HE pathways and credit transfer through to ‘ambitious reform’ of the various financial barriers to learning and earning.

Lords Willetts and Browne appeared before the Treasury select committee’s inquiry on student loans on 13 Dec.  “Part-time students: I plead guilty,” said Lord Willetts.  “I was surprised at the time and remain shocked by what happened.”  The government had “hoped and expected” that the extension of fee loans “would help part-time students, and it clearly didn’t work out that way”.

The government has published Building a Britain fit for the future, a lengthy industrial strategy white paper that recycles a number of previously announced policy and funding measures.  Those that could most impact the OU and the HE sector as a whole include:

  • A strategic role for the Office for Students in addressing employer and student needs and skills gaps

  • A major review of funding across 18+ education, slanted towards technical education

  • A £64m National Retraining scheme focusing initially on basic skills in digital and construction training

  • A comprehensive careers strategy (due soon) that will set out plans to improve the quality and coverage of careers advice

  • £725m HEIF funding that supports universities and businesses working together to innovate and commercialise research

Jo Johnson has announced that students in England will be offered two-year "accelerated" degrees with a £5,500 saving in tuition fees.  Mr Johnson said he wants to "break the mould" of a system in which three-year degrees have stifled more flexible ways of studying.  "This policy will be particularly attractive for mature students who are looking to change their skills and adapt to changes in the economy - and who might want to go through higher education at a faster pace," he said.  However, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said there was no evidence that "squeezing three years of learning into two will stop the huge drop in part-time students".

UCL’s Ludovic Highman reports that the EU is considering doubling its research and innovation budget to €160bn, making it even more disappointing that the Government seems no nearer to its aspiration of a “more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country”.  On the contrary, the EU has already warned British Horizon 2020 applicants that in the event of a no deal Brexit, EU funding to current British recipients would stop, and that they may be required to leave the research project altogether.

The >Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) are to merge from 1 Aug 18.  Further details will follow but it has been confirmed that the HEA Fellowship scheme will remain unaffected.

An end-of-year poll by Hepi found that 62% of students want a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.  Student support for Labour has grown to 68% since the General Election and most of these think the Labour Party (55%) and Jeremy Corbyn (58%) back Remain but, if Labour overtly backed Brexit, 42% of their student supporters would be less likely to vote for them.


M(O)OC News

[Campus Technology; Class Central; THE; Avril Jamieson; Beck Pitt]

Udemy has partnered with Unity Technologies to create a series of online courses that teach developers how to build interactive 2D and 3D games with the Unity game engine.  The first of these, The Ultimate Guide to Game Development with Unity, will cover the fundamentals of the development platform and programming in C#.  Students will test their knowledge through more than 30 interactive challenges designed to reinforce the skills needed to create commercial-quality games.

Udacity is closing, which it launched a year ago as a freelancing platform for nanodegree alumni.  Dhawal Shah notes that Blitz launched six months after Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus programme where, for an extra $100/month, alumni received a job guarantee or their money back (i.e. Blitz was a means of fulfilling that guarantee).  But nanodegrees have been a success, enabling Udacity to phase out job guarantees, and making Blitz surplus to requirements.

Speaking at the recent Online Educa conference, Paul Bacsich said that after a wave of excitement about their potential, “MOOCs basically absorbed the bandwidth of vice-chancellors” in the UK, diverting attention from developing Open Educational Resources.  However, he believed that now interest in MOOCs was “fading”, interest in OERs was beginning to pick up again.

Udacity has announced the launch of its Middle East and North Africa operations, where 60% of the population is under the age of 25 and youth unemployment is twice the world average.  Offices are opening in Cairo, Dubai and Riyadh which will offer local payment options and a network of mentors and reviewers to provide Arabic language support to three initial Nanodegree programmes: Intro to Programming, Android Basics, and Android Developer. 

FutureLearn is five this month.  It is currently the largest MOOC provider in Europe, with more than 7 million learners from over 230 countries accessing courses from 95 leading UK and international universities, 56 specialist education providers and 4 multinational corporations. 

The EU-funded BizMOOC consortium comprises 11 full partners (including the OU) and 3 associate partners from 11 countries.  The project’s first three pilot MOOCs, all in the area of lifelong learning, are currently available: 


Commercial News

[Reuters; EdSurge; Audrey Watters]

Oxford University has hired JP Morgan to raise at least £250 million in what is expected to be an ultra-long 100-year bond.  Moody’s assigned Oxford a ‘triple A’ rating last month ahead of the anticipated deal, matching the top grades also assigned to Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford.

VitalSource has acquired the corporate learning platform Intrepid Learning  which allows employers to host induction, customer education and other corporate training, including MOOCs.  VitalSource claims to provide learning content for more than 20m global users, mostly in the HE sector globally, and this acquisition will allow them to expand into corporate learning.

Pearson has just informed its customers that it is shutting down its e-bookstore at, and that it will be deleting cloud-based versions of purchased e-books by 30 April 2018, although VitalSource versions of Pearson e-books will remain available.



Growth of Freemium e-Books

[EdSurge; e-Literate; Audrey Watters]


Venture capital is a funny old world.  Having raised more than $157 million to provide the high-tech adaptive engine inside online textbooks created by publishers and organisations, Knewton has decided that it might be better to compete with these instead of helping them.   So, rather than hire authors to write textbooks from scratch, the company is now curating open-educational materials already on the internet.  Each interactive online “course product” (i.e. textbook, but publishers don’t think that label is very exciting anymore) costs $44 for two years of access, or $9.95 per month.

Having last month announced OpenNow – an OER-based service that, for $25 per student per course, provides “the delivery of content that’s aligned to assessment and learning objectives, the additional assessments and videos we either curated or created, and the outcomes-based platform with personalization and analytics” – Cengage has now launched a new service.  Cengage Unlimited is an all-you-can-read subscription for their digital course materials. For $120 per academic term, students get access to any and all of Cengage's 20,000 digital titles with the ability to also get a print rental for $7.99 per title. Once the subscription ends, students keep access to up to six digital textbooks for another year at no additional cost.

Macmillan Learning has expanded its course offerings through Intellus Learning which it acquired last year.  The company claims it provides access to the first and only easily curated collection of OER and academic library materials, enabling educators to easily select and deliver free and low-cost course materials to their students.  Intellus Learning’s taxonomy enables faculty to easily find, filter, and curate any openly-licensed content and academic library content that the institution has already paid to access to create or modify pre-built courses by topic, learning objective, traditional textbook chapters and accessibility rights.



Aston Reflects on Lessons from Online Learning

[Avril Jamieson]

Prof Helen Higson, Aston University's lead on the implementation and delivery of its academic strategy, reflects on the first year of Aston Online, its series of taught PG programmes delivered in partnership with Keypath.  She identifies the following key lessons from online delivery, many of which will resonate at the OU:

      • Online learners have high expectations and want to be treated like customers

      • The learning environment, communication systems, and online materials need to work like clockwork and be backed up with a strong student support network

      • A clear communications strategy is crucial; Aston aims to make contact with students at least once a week and achieves a strong retention rate of 96%

      • Course content must be designed carefully and the most talented staff engaged in online delivery

      • Old ways of doing things need to be challenged; the university must work around the needs of the student not vice versa


OU Finds UK Gen Z are Driven by Career and Financial Goals

[Education Technology]

A new OU consumer poll of 2,000 UK adults reveals that 97% of young adults aspire to start their own business and become financially independent, while other ‘softer’ life goals such as falling in love (37%), writing a novel (9%), or becoming a reality star (4%) rank much lower.  In stark contrast, 43% of older people thought this would be ‘too much of a struggle’.  Over half of Gen-Z’s don’t rely on their job to provide their only income, with most having, or would consider a ‘side-hustle’ venture using creative websites, blogs, e-commerce platforms and social media such as eBay [81%], Facebook [76%], Instagram [71%], Amazon [59%], and Gumtree [59%].


Online and Adult Students Generally More Satisfied Than Traditional Students

[Campus Technology]

This year’s National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report is based on surveys of 683,000 students from 970 US colleges and universities.  Among the finding reported are that 67% of adult learners and 74% of online students rated themselves as "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their overall experience, while this figure fell to around 65% for traditional students at two-year institutions and 54% on four-year courses.  Across all types of institution, those challenges that were rated high in importance but low in satisfaction included:

  • The ability to register for multiple classes without conflicts

  • The perception of tuition as a worthwhile investment

  • Availability of adequate financial aid

  • Quality of instruction

  • Fair and unbiased faculty

  • Helpful feedback from faculty and advisers


Have Open Universities Had a Negative Impact on Online Learning?

[Tony Bates]

I reported last month on a WCET survey on Online and Distance Education in Canada, showing widespread uptake and double-digit enrolment growth.  This led Tony Bates, who has a long and distinguished background in this field, to question whether open universities may have had a negative impact on online learning.  He notes that “Most open universities were designed in the 1970s around a heavy, front-ended print development model requiring a very large investment.  It is common in such institutions for it to take two years or more to develop a course, with an army of support staff as well as faculty.”  This he believes now makes it difficult for those institutions to move their offerings online in ways that are sufficiently innovative and timely which, in turn, is having an adverse effect on enrolments.  There is of course some truth in this but he does not touch on the dire PT funding situation, particularly in the UK.  He also refers to evidence from the Canadian survey that suggests the presence of a fully distance or open university inhibits or slows the adoption of distance/online courses in F2F institutions elsewhere in that province.  If true this suggests that, although virtual, there remains a perception that open/online universities are somehow ‘local’ in Canada, even though this is not the case in the UK. 


As Corporate World Moves Toward Curated ‘Microlearning’, HE Must Adapt


There is a certain irony in (US) industry complaints about a lack of workers with current skills whilst, at the same time, they are spending less time and money per employee on learning and development.  EdSurge looks at the world of life-long learning and how organisations are starting to curate and use short, free microlearning solutions from MOOCs and ‘learning experience platforms’ such as Degreed and EdCast that allow them to draw on learning materials from an ecosystem rich with options.  “Rather than only buying huge catalogues of materials off-the-shelf, we’re moving toward a more-searchable ecosystem,” says PVH’s Lori Bradley. “Our team is constantly vetting material, and we have a ‘dean’ of each academy”.  SAP tells a similar tale: “There’s a shift from formal to more informal learning – bite-sized training and the application of experience”.  And is there still a place for HEIs?  “Academic credit is not always the selling point that universities think it is” says Bradley.


Models of Support for Students with Disabilities


This report from the Institute for Employment Studies presents findings from the first phase of a two-part study to review the levels of support for disabled students across the HE sector in 2016/17.  It involved an online survey of 137 providers and more in-depth case studies from 13 providers including the OU.  The overall findings against eight key measures are as follows:

  1. 90% have written policies describing the support and provision for disabled students

  2. 60% rate themselves at 6 or higher (on a scale of 1-10) in terms of inclusiveness

  3. 78% use lecture capture although only 20% of these recorded more than half of all lectures

  4. 52% have an accessibility plan

  5. 88% encourage disclosure at all stages of the student lifecycle

  6. 67% engage with their students’ union on issues around disability services

  7. 85% are currently or have recently taken steps to review their support for disabled students

  8. 98% sought to evaluate the effectiveness/impact of their support for disabled students

Staff networking/training and curriculum design were areas where many providers felt they were currently doing well.


US Campuses See Value of Digital Learning, but Lack a Plan

[Campus Technology]

In a recent survey of US chief academic officers, Provosts, Pedagogy and Digital Learning, 87% said digital learning resources "make learning more efficient and effective for students" and 74% agreed that digital content would provide a richer and more personalised learning experience over print.  However, around 40% of institutions do not have a plan for ‘going digital’ and concerns remain that not all students may have access to the required devices. 


You’re More Likely to Remember Something if You Read it Aloud


It’s already known that reading aloud can aid memory (the ‘production effect’) but Canadian researchers wanted to better understand why.  They used 75 students who were recorded in a lab saying 160 words out loud and, when they returned 2 weeks later, they studied half of those 160 words in preparation for a memory test.  Each student revised the 80 words in four different ways and in different sequences:

  • Reading 20 of the words to themselves silently

  • Reading 20 words out loud to themselves

  • Listening to a recording of someone else reading 20 words

  • Listening to a recording of themselves saying 20 words

A recognition test followed, comprising the 80 words they’d just studied and the other 80 words used two weeks’ earlier.  On seeing each word, the students had to indicate whether it was one they had just studied or not.  The most effective revision method was reading the words aloud, leading to an average of 77% correct answers.  This was followed by listening to a recording of themselves (74%), hearing a recording of someone else (69%) and reading in silence (65%).  The authors suggest that a combination of motor information (speaking) and self-referential information (“I said it”) contribute to the production effect.


Blockchain in Education

[Stephen Downes]

This detailed (136pp) EU report on Blockchain in Education set out to help fill a gap in educators’ (i.e. non-techies) understanding what can facilitate both the process of issuing and recognising credentials in an increasingly digitised world.  My first mission was to find out what a blockchain was, because I realised I had been pretending I knew but didn’t really, so there is was on p16:

“A blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way for information to be recorded and shared by a community.  In this community, each member maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively.  The information could represent transactions, contracts, assets, identities, or practically anything else that can be described in digital form.  Entries are permanent, transparent, and searchable, which makes it possible for community members to view transaction histories in their entirety.  Each update is a new ‘block’ added to the end of a ‘chain’.  A protocol manages how new edits or entries are initiated, validated, recorded, and distributed.”

The report takes users through the various components, how they operate/interoperate and what issues arise along the way, all supported by case studies (including the OU, p64), examples, usage scenarios and links to useful resources.


Innovating Pedagogy 2017

[Inge Ignatia de Waard]

Can it really be five years since the first edition of Innovating Pedagogy appeared, containing fanciful predictions from a bunch of hopelessly out of touch IET academics about the potential impact of e-books, MOOCs , badges, Learning Analytics and a host of other stuff we all knew would never catch on.  Well here we are with the sixth edition of Innovating Pedagogy, in which we learn that those e-books are about to become more open and the analytics will be bigger and/or student-led.  And behold, in the true spirit of Christmas, President Herod’s Fake News has given birth to ‘epistemic education in post-truth societies’ – a title that must surely be the work of more than three wise men people.




  • ALT’s annual survey is open until 12 Jan.  Have your say to help inform the work of ALT for the coming year, their priorities and how they put values into practice.  [ALT]

  • IRRODL Vol 18, No 7 contains articles on mobile learning, OERs, MOOCs, social media, ODL design and hearing-impaired learner experiences.  [IRRODL]

  • Funkify is a Chrome plugin that simulates the effects of web use by those with dyslexia, cognition, motor or visual disabilities.  [Userfocus]

  • Instagram is testing a standalone app for direct messaging which includes access to exclusive filters, Boomerang and other creative tools.  [TechCrunch]

  • Bendor Grosvenor considers whether museums’ licensing demands (on out-of-copyright artwork) are a pernicious tax on scholarship.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Jennifer Howard investigates what happened to >Google's effort to scan millions of university library books?  [EdSurge]

  • Landmark College in Vermont caters exclusively for >students with learning disabilities.  See how they approach technology options.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • So what do Google and Amazon do with all those questions you ask its home assistants?  Brian Barrett explains and, to some extent, reassures.  [Wired]

  • The number of workers starting apprenticeships in England since the introduction of the levy scheme has fallen from 117,000 to 48,000.  [Steve Parkinson]

  • Tony Hirst summarises multiple announcements relating to new AWS service offerings made by Amazon at the recent AWS re:Invent.  [Tony Hirst]

  • A study finds increased time spent with electronic devices, particularly in excess of 2 hrs/day, might contribute increased symptoms of depression among teens.  [Audrey Watters]

  • I’m starting to run out of steam on the Moodle he-said, she-said saga but, for the diehards, here’s some more.  [Michael Feldstein]

  • Ofcom is being urged to take action over the one million homes that have poor broadband and large parts of the UK with no 4G coverage.  [BBC]


And Finally…

[The Memo; BPS]

The Memo reports what the UK in 2017 looked like from inside a search engine:



Google UK top trending searches of 2017

Google UK top trending ‘What is…?’ queries of 2017


Meghan Markle

What is a hung Parliament?


iPhone 8

What is an exit poll?


Hurricane Irma

What is the Confederations Cup?


Fidget spinner

What is Bitcoin?


Manchester bombing

What is the Antikythera mechanism?


Grenfell Tower

What is a pangolin?


13 Reasons Why

What is a general election?


Tara Palmer-Tomkinson

What is waterboarding?


Shannon Matthews

What is the DUP?


iPhone X

What is Pink’s real name?


‘Tis the season to be merry but this Christmas you can do it with impunity because, let’s face it, you’ve always wanted to learn that second language.  Dutch researchers set out to investigate the, “widely held belief among bilingual speakers that alcohol consumption improves foreign language fluency, as is evident in anecdotal evidence from numerous discussions in social and popular media.”  What they expected to find was that those who consumed alcohol thought they were speaking more fluently.  What they actually found was that those who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol really were, according to native speakers, conversing more fluently.  And of course there was no shortage of willing participants.


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