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e-Learning Digest No 162 - Feb 18

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
20 February 2018

UK Conferences & Workshops


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.  Similarly, Microsoft’s AI School offers modules of varying length and depth on AI, Analytics, Azure and more.  [Tony Hirst]

>Kineo’s Week of Webinars (26 Feb – 2 Mar) offers free 1hr webinars on topics that include video production, leading digital transformation, and learning design for impact.  [Kineo]








[Wonkhe; BBC; THE; HESA; The PIE; University World News]

The long anticipated review of university tuition fees in England is about to start.  But what problem is it trying to solve: students graduating with debts of £50,000 and interest rates up to 6.1%; a better balance between student and taxpayer liability; greater support for disadvantaged, vocational and part-time learners; or all of the above?  Wonkhe’s Mark Leach is concerned that “poorly-informed interlocutors, logical fallacy and category error are the enemies of high-quality debate” so he kicks off with what he believes are eight category mistakes in the debate around the funding review.

As Theresa May continues to dig her heels in over international student visas – despite recent UUK figures showing they add around £25bn to the UK economy – it is reported that the number of Indian students in the UK is 50% below its 2010 peak, standing at 15,000 (compared to 100,000 in Canada).  However, Lord Karan Bilimoria says that, if Britain hopes to establish a trade deal with India, Prime Minister Modi “…has said unequivocally that the international movement of people, especially with regard to education, is critical to the success of any future partnership.”

Data on >‘alternative’ HE providers from HESA shows a population of 51,930 UG and 6,805 PG students, with those aged 30+ forming the biggest group (40%).  There has been a 1% increase in FT UG students on ‘designated courses’ from 2015/16 to 2016/17 compared to an 18% decline for those in part time study.  The top 4 alternative providers (by some distance) are GSM London (6,770 students), BPP University (6,035), BIMM (4,995) and The University of Law (4,900).

HESA figures on international students studying at UK universities show an overall percentage of 19% in 2016/17 – similar to the previous three years – although the latest data were collected before the Brexit referendum.  Some 44% of these were studying for postgraduate qualifications and China accounted for around a third of all non-EU enrolments.  The figure for students enrolled in UK institutions by studying wholly overseas was dominated by Oxford Brookes, with nearly 160,000 registered on its degree in applied accounting offered in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

And campuses for British universities could soon open in Egypt after new universities minister Sam Gyimah signed an agreement with that country’s education ministry at the annual Education World Forum in London last month.

The Department for Education is taking “decisive action to crack down on degree fraud” after an investigation by the BBC's File on Four programme found that thousands of UK nationals have bought fake degrees from a multi-million pound ‘diploma mill’ operated by IT giant Axact from a Karachi call centre.  It is estimated that thousands of qualifications including master's degrees, doctorates and PhDs have been bought by individuals and organisations.  Defence contractor FB Heliservices bought fake Axact degrees for seven employees, including two helicopter pilots, between 2013 and 2015.  One of these employees said soon after he had been given a contract to work on the Caribbean island of Curacao, the local government decided all those working in the territory had to have a degree.  “We looked into distance learning, and contact was made with this online university.  It was just something that needed to be done to keep working in the country.”


M(O)OC News

[Class Central; University World News; Campus Technology; EdSurge; John Whitehead]

Dhawal Shah’s annual review of MOOCs shows around 78m learners registered on 9,400 courses offered by more than 800 organisations.  The market continues to grow although there are signs of a slowdown and a definite shift towards monetisation (“The big MOOC providers now have a product at every price point - from free to millions of dollars”), with Coursera seeing a 70% increase in paying customers in 2017.  The main article is worth a read, along with some of the supplementary reports and snapshots of the big four providers: Coursera, edX, Udacity and FutureLearn.

China Daily reports that China now has 10 MOOC platforms, offering 3,200 courses from 460 higher education institutions that have served 55m learners since 2012.  Last month the Department of Higher Education released the first batch of 490 national-level MOOCs, 70% of which were established by China's top universities.  The country will identify 10,000 courses of national-level quality by 2020 – 3,000 MOOCs and 7,000 offline courses – to promote the improvement of higher education.

Google and Coursera have launched the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, offering training via MOOCs to people who want to enter the IT field but lack the time and resources for a formal education.  The programme, developed by Google experts, comprises 6 courses to train beginners and prepare them for job readiness in 8-12 months.  Those who complete successfully will also have access to job search help.

edX is developing a MicroBachelors degree that is designed to break the undergraduate credential into modular components.  “Education in five to ten years will become modular, will become omnichannel, and will become lifelong,” says Anant Agarwal.  “It’s not going to happen by itself, we’re going to make it happen.  Modular is good because it can create new efficiencies and new scaling and unbundling of components”.

Udacity’s nanodegree on flying car design, led by AI guru (and Udacity CEO) Sebastian Thrun, certainly caught the headlines but The Register’s Gareth Corfield is unimpressed.  He believes the £2,000 two-term course will provide participants with just a subset of the skills and knowledge necessary to actually build a flying car, with a focus very much on robotics and AI but precious little on the necessary maths, physics, aeronautics or propulsion systems. 


Commercial News

[The Verdict; Martin Weller; TechCrunch; Inside Higher Ed; Bryan Alexander]

The Verdict offers commentary on the future size and direction of edtech in Europe from Benoit Wirz, co-founder of Europe’s first ed-tech focused venture capital firm, Brighteye Ventures.  In the UK – home to more than 1,200 edtech startups – he predicts the market will reach £3.4bn by 2021.

In the finest spirit of hoovering up free content, bolting on some quiz questions and other extras and then selling it, Macmillan Learning has launched Intellus Open Courses.  For $14.99 per student per month subscribers get access to a bunch of OERs plus “a rich package of instructor supplements and on-demand support”.

Brainly claims its peer-to-peer learning platform now has 100 million monthly unique users from more than 35 countries and that over 100,000 questions are answered each day.  The company has just acquired Bask, whose technology will enable Brainly to add video clips to its offering.

Blackboard will make VitalSource's Inclusive Access model of digital curricular materials and analytic dashboards available through Blackboard Learn and Moodlerooms.

EDUCAUSE has offered to pay $55,000 for a range of bankrupted NMC’s assets, including: the Horizon Report project, NMC trademarks, the website, membership and subscriber lists.  It would also be protected from any “actual, pending, threatened or potential litigation”.


Social Mobility in British HE

[Steve Parkinson; Peter Horrocks; The Guardian]

A new publication from The Fabian Society, Life Lessons: A National Education Service that leaves no adult behind, examines how Labour should deliver on its promise to create a free, universal ‘cradle to grave’ education system.  This includes support for part-time adult learners and we see contributions from Peter Horrocks and Birkbeck’s Claire Callender, with the latter challenging student loan arrangements: “the eligibility criteria are too restrictive.  Consequently, the majority of part-time undergraduates do not qualify”.  And for those who do, many of whom are working and earning over £21,000, “this means starting to repay their loans while still studying and before they have got their degree, unlike fulltime students who repay their loans when they leave university.”

In newly published data from HESA, Widening participation: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17, Table T2b shows that Cambridge took just 5 working-class mature students, with Oxford and many other elite institutions taking 0.  In contrast, the OU took 700.

The Social Market Foundation reports that nearly half of working-class British students in England are now entering university with qualifications such as BTECs.  However, some prestigious universities do not recognise the qualification: Cambridge says: “BTECs don’t provide an appropriate preparation for most Cambridge courses, where the emphasis is more academic than vocational”, although Oxford is more receptive, saying it “welcomes” applications based on BTECs and other vocational qualifications.

And in a policy pamphlet: Social Mobility and the Office for Students - The Five Essentials the OU sets out five steps to reverse the decline in numbers of students from these backgrounds starting higher education in England.


Building a Collaborative Academic-Learning Designer Relationship

[Inside Higher Ed; Jisc]

Tim Milosch considers what makes a productive relationship between academics and learning designers, concluding that key is collaboration based on an understanding of, and respect for, each other’s roles.  He sees the academics as subject-matter experts “primarily responsible for the course content and assignments” whilst learning designers bring learning technology expertise and have primary responsibility for “how students interact with and consume that content in an online setting.”

And learning designers can now find support from a new Jisc Guide, Designing learning and assessment in a digital age.  Based on a four-stage model – Discover, Dream, Design and Deliver – the guide builds on previous Jisc research and projects to provide interactive guidance, tips, exemplars, case studies and supporting resources.  The guide also includes a Jisc definition of Digital-by-Design:

In learning that is truly digital by design, students have an enhanced set of learning experiences and can move seamlessly between physical and virtual environments that are supportive, stimulating, engaging, challenging and inspiring.


Time to End the Academic Arms Race

[Steve Parkinson]

The Economist reports that around half of school-leavers “in the rich world” now go to university, subsidised in various ways by government funding.  But is this necessary or does it lead to situations such as in South Korea, where about 70% of young workers have degrees, but half of the unemployed are graduates?  The author suggests that those without degrees are becoming increasingly disadvantaged in terms of employment options and that, “Young people, both rich and poor, are ill-served by the arms race in academic qualifications, in which each must study longer because that is what all the rest are doing”.  Instead, we should focus more on societal and employer needs and consider micro-credentials and other ways of gaining relevant skills and knowledge.


The Rhetoric and Reality of Technology-Enhanced Learning

[Richard Walker]

Walker et al consider >the rhetoric and reality of technology-enhanced learning developments in UK higher education: reflections on recent UCISA research findings (2012–2016), finding that, “whilst the range of centrally supported TEL tools and services in support of teaching and learning has increased across the sector [and] We observe an increasing number of TEL systems that instructors are being encouraged to engage with as part of their academic practice”.  However, there remains very much a ‘content-focus’ meaning that “we are a long way from mainstreaming innovative pedagogic practices through the use of technology, which demonstrably improve student learning.”


Whatever Happened to The Promise of Global Online Learning?

[University World News]

In 2001, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) was founded to study disruptive innovations worldwide, but at the end of last year the Observatory’s Global Forum in London pondered the question whatever happened to the promise of global online learning?  Online learning is becoming more widely offered and accepted in HE, and enrolments are on the increase but, with the exception of some MOOCs, the numbers of students studying fully online degrees from outside the borders of the course provider remain very low.  The author suggests this may be because of legislation (e.g. Australia requires international students to take at least 75% of their studies on-campus; and countries such as China and India refuse to recognise foreign online degrees), or the reputation of some providers failing to travel around the globe, and of course the costs of western courses may be prohibitive for those in developing countries.


US Online Course Enrolment Continues to Grow

[Campus Technology; Tony Bates]

Last month we had the IPEDS report and data on postsecondary enrolment in the US.  Now we have the Babson survey of US distance education showing online student enrolment has grown for the 14th consecutive year, with 6.4 million (32%) taking at least one distance education course during 2015-16, although private for-profit colleges' online programmes showed a decline, losing more than 39,000 students over the year.

Also, relating to the previous OBHE item, of all students taking exclusively distance courses only 1.5% were located outside the US, and the vast majority (84%) of US students taking exclusively distance courses enrolled at public institutions are located in the same state as the institution.


OpenScholar Goes Private

[Campus Technology]

OpenScholar, an open source website-publishing system specifically for higher education, has separated from Harvard to become a private company, although it intends to keep its code “open source and free”.  The website creation service is already used by more than 75 institutions, not counting the 9,000 sites within Harvard itself.  The drag-and-drop software requires no coding, enables sharing of content to social media, embedding of external media and allows for administrative role permissions.  Most importantly, OpenScholar is a ‘smart’ system so users can enter content into the programme and “it knows what to do with it,” says CEO Jess Drislane.


Open Access

[Inside Higher Ed; Audrey Watters; Inge de Waard]

A non-profit publishing platform called Flockademic has just launched with the aim of putting academics in charge of scholarly publishing and making publicly funded research freely available to the public.  The free platform, started in the Netherlands, enables academics to start their own preprint journal “in a matter of minutes.”  They can also use the platform to share early research findings as well as lab notes, conference posters, data and other work.

David Wiley records his reflections on 20 years of open content: lessons from open source, looking at the history and issues that arose along the way.  It’s quite a long post that will form the basis for his keynote at OER18 and I hesitate to try and summarise it here, other than to say I found it very informative and readable.

And finally, Inge Ignatia de Waard suggests her top 10 open access papers from 2017.


Phone Shipments Up, Tablets Down

[Campus Technology; TechCrunch]

Gartner reports that device shipments will continue to grow in 2018, climbing 2.1% to a total of 2.32 billion, led by high-end smartphones and “thin and light Apple and Microsoft Windows 10 devices”.  Growth in premium ultramobiles are forecast to rise from 59 million in 2017 to 70m this year and 80m in 2019.  However, sales of PCs (-5.4%) and notebooks (-6.8%) will decline.  Gartner also predicts that smartphones will get smarter this year with additional AI, virtual personal assistants, biometrics and more natural user interfaces.  Next year will see 5G phones starting to roll out as 5G networks become available and, by 2021, around 9% of all smartphones sold will have 5G capabilities.

Meanwhile, IDC looks at the tablet market and sees a decline of 6.5% from 2016’s 175m shipments, although Apple managed a small growth from 42.6m to 43.8m shipments, giving it a 27% market share, ahead of Samsung (15%) and Amazon (10%).



  • Robert Quartly-Janeiro wonders where did business schools and MBAs go wrong?  [University World News]

  • Luxembourg will invest €1.44bn in HE and research over the next four years, with more than half of this going to the country’s only university.  [THE]

  • Issue 2018:1 of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME) includes papers on academic use of social media and open educational resources.  [Martin Weller]

  • Via Tony Hirstcomes Snippets of Complexity.  [Tony Hirst]

  • Three quarters of Americans think >AI and Machine Learning will impact on jobs.  But, in the same survey, three quarters of Americans think their own jobs will be safe.  [The Chronicle]

  • App Store revenues are expected to top $110bn this year.  Time spent in apps grew by 6% last year, with shopping most popular (54% of sessions).  [TechCrunch]

  • An upgraded Office 365 Education will include dictation, read aloud, on-demand translation, assignment support, recording and publishing PowerPoint to Stream, and much more.  [edshelf]

  • Belinda Tynan has been elected as the new >President of ICDE, a global membership organisation for collaboration on quality learning and teaching in the digital age.  [Steve Rycroft]

  • Labster continues to expand, now offering 69 virtual experiments in use at more than 150 institutions including MIT and Harvard.  [Labster]

  • Juno’s Jupyter/iPython notebook client for iPad lets users connect to a notebook server and do everything remotely that they currently do on their desktops.  [Tony Hirst]

  • Just in case you hadn’t heard, >student satisfaction is unrelated to academic performance.  I guess coverage in THE now makes it official.  [Jisc]

  • Nesta’s latest report & data visualisations explore the economic significance and evolution of creativity in the UK.  [Nesta]

  • Richard Byrne suggests Nine Ways to Add Notes to Padlet Walls, including text, maps, audio and video.  [Sussex TEL]

  • SocialRank for Content analyses tweets and Instagram posts, giving users data around who engaged with each piece of content and when.  [TechCrunch]

  • University of Wisconsin researchers find that gender differences in brain size/structure are already apparent at just one month of age.  [BPS]


And Finally…


The GPS exercise and route sharing app Strava is being employed for unforeseen purposes as users create artistic plots such as the 88-mile (141km) virtual snowman cyclist Anthony Hoyte spent 10 hours creating across London.  This comes on top of his ‘Fowl Play’ over Bristol and ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ in Cardiff.

But of course mobile devices and driving don’t always mix well.  Canadian traffic cops stopped a driver in Vancouver after they spotted him wearing headphones and noticed a tablet and mobile phone attached to his steering wheel.  Police had "a lengthy conversation about road safety" with the driver.


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