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e-Learning Digest No 163 - Mar 18

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
20 March 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]



[Wonkhe; BBC; The Telegraph; OU News; Herald Scotland; University World News; The Independent]

The Lost Part-Timers is a new report from the Sutton Trust detailing the extent of the decline in part-time and mature study, and its causes.  From 2010-15, part-time students living in England fell by 51% and, using OU data to compare participation rates in England with Scotland and Wales, the authors demonstrate that almost half of this decline is attributable to the 2012 reforms of fees and grants.  As a consequence, by 2015, there were 40,000 ‘lost part-timers’ per year potentially missing out on an important ‘second chance’ route to social mobility.  On a similar theme, the Million Plus Group has also just published Forgotten Learners: building a system that works for mature students noting that, for example, between 2009/10 and 2016/17, the number of PT nursing students aged 21+ has fallen by 49%.

Last year, 534,000 students were accepted on to the hundreds of mainly three-year degree courses on offer in England but, according to Hepi, about 300,000 new places will be needed at universities over the next 12 years.  The 18-year-old population has been declining steadily for a number of years, but from 2020 it will increase again, rising by nearly 23% by 2030.  Hepi president Bahram Bekhradnia said, “it is difficult to see - under the current finance model - how the policy of uncapped student recruitment can continue”.

A new OfS report found that 10% of school leavers thought they would be unable to pay back their student loan within 30 years.  This rose to 28% of university students and, among recent graduates, 42% said they do not expect to repay their loans in full.  The IFS warns of “major issues” with the current system, as its research showed that most graduates will still be paying off student loans into their 50s.  It estimates that under the current system, 77.4% of graduates will never fully repay their debts, compared to 41.5% under the previous (maintenance grants) system.

Peter Horrocks has called for a relaxation of the tight rules governing the way employers spend the apprenticeship levy.  In a speech to the Institute of Directors last week, he said, "the future needs of the economy would be best served by a more agile approach, where employers can buy in learning ‘modules' to develop apprenticeships tailor-made for their organisation and employees, rather than be tied to rigid centrally agreed standards".  One in five of the undergraduate degrees awarded by the OU are Open Degrees and he has suggested a specialist offering for degree-level apprenticeships based on this flexible modular format.

Theresa May has launched the review of university funding but Scottish universities have also demanded a say on the future of tuition fees because they charge fees to students from the rest of the UK (currently 19,000 are paying up to £9,250 in fees a year), despite free tuition for Scots.  A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said the review “will undoubtedly have significant implications for Scotland’s universities” and they wanted a “financially sustainable” way of attracting rUK students in future.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, has suggested that students who take degrees that lead to employment in areas of skills shortage should receive a fee discount.  Whilst he does not condemn courses such as ‘medieval history’, he believes the government should not provide any form of discount to students who take them.  Instead, he says, the country has serious skills shortages in healthcare, digital, engineering, coding and construction and students should be incentivised by discounts to take degrees in those subjects.  He believes all courses should be about high-skilled employment and suggests that parity of esteem for skills-based courses would follow if Oxford and Cambridge universities offered degree apprenticeships.

…but in contrast, the British Academy’s Adam Wright warns of >the huge risk posed by variable tuition fees: “Higher education cannot protect people from changes in the labour market due to global economic forces or political intervention and they cannot correct all the problems inherited from a student’s social background and schooling.  Why, then, does the Government expect variable fees to be anything but a complicated mess?”

Analysis from Study.EU, reported in The Independent, has ranked Germany as the most desirable destination for international students, followed by the UK.  However, European universities are increasing English-speaking courses to prepare for an influx of students who could seek alternatives to a post-Brexit UK, with the number of English-taught programmes in universities on the continent rising by 13% in the last year.


M(O)OC News

[OU News; Dot Coley; BBC, Inside Higher Ed; Business Wire]

FutureLearn celebrated its fifth birthday by announcing at the House of Commons last week plans to host Post Graduate degrees courses offered by the OU.  Peter Horrocks stated that, “The Open University plans to deliver postgraduate qualifications through FutureLearn later this year and in 2019.  We are actively exploring what this could entail, but our initial offer would be to provide up to five qualifications.”  He also encouraged collaboration among providers by "enabling Universities to share costs of course development, to work together on professional development; to help the worlds of FE and HE glue together as a single tertiary sector; benefiting students and society in a cost effective way.”

Also speaking at the House of Commons, chief executive Simon Nelson spoke of FutureLearn’s 7.5 million learners in over 230 territories and 155 partners, including 95 of the top universities in the world today.  In addition, “We are branching out beyond the University sector too, and have become the common platform underpinning a £40 million project from the Institute of Coding, alongside The Open University, and a £20 million government funded Cyber Discovery programme, aimed at teaching teenagers cyber security skills.”

The University of London is launching a fully online BSc in computer science for £5,650 per year over three years, aimed at encouraging more part-time, working students.  Using content hosted by Coursera, the programme will include group work, live video and individual tuition, but students will go to exam centres for final invigilated exams.

Doug Lederman looks back at Coursera’s 6-year evolution and the growing prominence of degree-based courses in its suite of offerings.  This began with a University of Illinois MBA in 2015 which now regularly attracts cohorts of 600 students paying $22k per programme, and saw a big expansion this month with Arizona State University, Imperial College London and the Universities of London and Michigan joining its degree-program ranks.  He also notes that 9 of the 10 new degrees are at masters level, and the single BSc (from UoL) is in computer science, “where the world demand [for graduates] far exceeds the supply”.

Udacity has announced over 100% year-on-year growth in 2017, with total revenues of around $70m.  The company ended last year with more than 8m enrolled students (up from 5m at the end of 2016) with more than half of these from outside the US.  Key to their success is the Nanodegree programme, launched in collaboration with AT&T and Google in 2014.  There are now more than 50,000 students currently enrolled in, and over 27,000 have graduated from, paid Nanodegree programs.


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; TechCrunch; EdSurge]

Barnes & Noble will make Pearson instructional content available through "inclusive access" models at nearly 1,500 US campus bookstores serving over 6m students.

WeWork, the co-working startup valued at $20bn with some 200,000 members worldwide, has announced its first physical move outside the US by expanding the coding-focused Flatiron School abroad, starting in London this June.  The London operation will be based out of Finsbury Pavement, one of WeWork’s multiple London locations, and it will kick off with two courses: a 15 week full-time software engineering immersive course; and a 10 week part-time front-end web developer course.  Alongside this, it’s also launching a scholarship program, offering £1 million in fees to people from underrepresented groups in tech to enrol in Flatiron classes, working with existing local groups like AllBright, Code Bar and Women Who Code to spread the word.

Pearson’s non-digital car boot sale continues.  Having previously shed The FT, its stake in The Economist, 22% of Penguin Random House and Wall Street English, the publisher has now “concluded the strategic review of our US K12 courseware business and have classified the business as held for sale.”  It is currently “in discussions with potential buyers”.  CEO John Fallon says “It is one of the least profitable parts of the business, it is textbook led and much less advanced than other parts of Pearson”.  He also noted that their biggest competitor in higher education “is second-hand sales of our own textbooks.”

Elsevier has announced a partnership with non-profit Hypothesis, which makes annotation software that lets readers make margin notes on online articles.  Although Hypothesis is already free to anyone, scholars will now be able to make annotations to Elsevier articles using their Elsevier login and password, without having to setup a separate account.  Elsevier has purchased other tools in recent years, including Mendeley’s referencing service and the Social Science Research Network.  So, are they just nice people to do business with or will researchers become so dependent on embedded features that institutions end up locked in to that vendor, limiting competition?


ALT Annual Survey


ALT has just published the findings of its 2017 Annual Survey based on responses from 226 individuals, 90% of whom are employed in HEIs.  Content Management/VLE, e-Assessment and Blended Learning are the top three areas of importance for both current practice and future priorities, with Assistive Technology showing the greatest rise in importance compared to last year.  However, social networking and blogging both show steady year-on-year declines since 2014.


Four Steps to Define Digital Skills


Readie is a European digital policy centre, managed by Nesta and supported by Google.  Ahead of an upcoming report that will show how programmes around the world have identified the skills that people in work need, and facilitated training to deliver these important capabilities, it offers four steps to define digital skills

  1. Compare existing frameworks: beware of the ‘flashy, flimsy and faddish’

  2. Clearly identify the context for your definition by considering People, Place and Period; e.g. ‘What digital skills do doctors need for general practice in the next three years?’

  3. Understand how digitalisation influences the demand for both technical and non-technical skills

  4. Tailor the definition or framework to the audience

This is a helpful perspective for practitioners and policymakers which includes several useful references/links.


US Adult Social Media Use in 2018

[Pew Research]

The latest (US) social media report from Pew shows Facebook and YouTube dominate the landscape, while younger Americans (especially those aged 18-24) stand out for embracing a variety of platforms – including Snapchat (78%), Instagram (71%) and Twitter (45%) – and using them frequently.  In contrast, only 37% of those aged 65+ use social media.  Some platforms divide by other demographics: Pinterest is much more popular with women (41% vs 16% of men); LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and those in high-income households; and WhatsApp is popular in Latin America and Latinos in the US (49% compared with 21% of blacks and 14% of whites).  Overall, 59% of US adults say it would not be hard to give up social media if they had to.


Lessons Learned From a $75 Million Failed Experiment

[Inside Higher Ed]

Inside Higher Ed reminds us that 9 out of 10 start-ups fail, but when they do, private investors typically foot the bill.  However, in the case of last month’s closure of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, the state has taken a massive hit.  Starting in 2011, the Texas system invested nearly $100m in the institute ($23m remains unspent) to try to drive digital technologies into the approaches its campuses use to reach, educate and graduate students.  Over five years, the institute helped several UT campuses launch distinctive new academic programmes and developed three core pieces of technology that, among other things, deliver online learning and students' transcript information via blockchain.  And the payback?  The project generated a total revenue over those five years of just $1 million.


US Adults Considering a Return to HE Are Wary of Cost and Learning Online

[Campus Technology]

A survey of US adults aged 23-55 who had not completed a bachelor's degree asked about how they valued higher education, what would motivate them to return or prevent them from doing so, and what they thought about online learning.  Sixty percent said they've considered returning to school to earn a degree or certificate, with 73% wishing to do so to increase their earnings potential, although similar proportions thought they could not afford college or feared levels of debt.  However, “On nearly every measure,” the report stated, “respondents judged face-to-face learning to be significantly better than online learning”, particularly in terms of teaching excellence and academic support.


Five Ways to Make Educational Videos Binge-Worthy

[Campus Technology]

New York University's Stern School of Business has been looking at ways to make educational video content more compelling.  Their Learning Science Team explored five areas that they think should lead to greater student engagement:

  • Include questions in the commentary (as a lecturer would) but not those with obvious or yes/no answers

  • Consider icon-based animations if the subject matter allows (e.g. processes, flows, relationships, evolutions, etc).  These are relatively easy to develop and provide visual cues that aid retention

  • Embed pauses and quiz questions.  NYU used Kaltura but our new OU media player has an ‘annotation’ function that allows questioning and branching

  • Use experts within videos who share unique insights or nuggets of wisdom

  • Include prompts, clues or challenges to "encourage engagement from the viewers"


Globalizing Education Standards with ISO 21001

[Audrey Watters]

ISO 21001 is a standard for Educational Organizations Management Systems due for release by ISO later this year.  While few may have heard of it, Ben Williamson suggests it could define priorities, products, processes and practices in the education sector at global scale for years to come.  It has been in development for nearly 5 years by 140 expert members from 44 participating countries including UK and much of mainland Europe, Australia, Canada, and many South American and Asian countries.  There’s nothing much to see yet on the ISO site but a PowerPoint on SlideShare gives a decent overview (start at slide #6).




And Finally…

[The Local; TechCrunch]

We hear much about European institutions offering more courses in English to attract international students but now the mighty Switzerland is pushing back.  From the 2018/19 academic year it will be possible to study yodelling to degree level for the first time as the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts adds yodelling to its Folk Music programme.  The three-year bachelor’s and a two-year master’s degrees in the alpine vocal technique will see students not only learn yodelling skills but also take modules in yodelling theory, history and business.

But if you think learning to yodel is madness, spare a thought for those Duolingo users who are signing up to learn Klingon.  “Many Star Trek fans become curious about the Klingon language at some point, but learning a language takes time, energy and regular practice, especially when you’re just starting out,” says lead course creator and Star Trek fan Felix Malmenbeck.  Klingon joins the other 30 free language courses that are currently available on the Duolingo platform, which currently has about 200 million users.


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