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e-Learning Digest No 164 - Apr 18

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
19 April 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]





[Avril Jamieson; Louise McCourt; BBC; Martin Weller; Wonkhe; University World News; TES; The PIE]

Cranfield has been selected as the lead provider in a new HEI for Milton Keynes, currently named MK:U, which aims to open in 2023 with an initial cohort of 5,000 students.  MK:U’s offering will include accelerated 2 year degrees, intensive 3 year degrees with project placements, PT, short and CPD courses – but with a focus on STEM, digital and related subjects together with close links with employers (Grant Thornton, Microsoft and Tech Mahindra are already on board).

Non-continuation data (i.e. drop-outs) from HESA show that, for UK domiciled first-degree students, 6.4% of ‘young’ full time entrants did not continue after their 1st year, rising to 11.6% for mature (Table T3).  The figures for young part-time students were higher, at 34.2% overall (mature: 32.7%) and rising to 43.0% (40.2%) for the OU specifically (Table T3e).  However, these figures mask large differences in demographics, study patterns, etc, by institution.  HESA also reports more than 50,000 students aged 50+ at UK campus-based universities, including Birkbeck where they account for 11% of its full-time student population.

Last year the charity Teach First found young people in some of the wealthiest areas of England were 18 times more likely to go to university than those in the poorest, and that four fifths of students accepted at Oxbridge between 2010 and 2015 had parents in top professional and managerial jobs.  Now POLAR data from HEPI supports this, with Cambridge, St Andrews, Bristol and Oxford scoring lowest for class equality whilst Hull, Derby, Edge Hill and Chester top the rankings.  A Cambridge spokesman said that last year saw its highest level of state school applicants (63%) for 35 years although, curiously, he did not cite their success rates.  Analysis from WonkHE also suggests that the WP performance of alternative providers – held up by the Government as a potential driver of social mobility and inclusion in HE – is not only low but declining year-on-year.

Martin Weller has also been looking at the WP data (its release obviously didn’t clash with any Cardiff Devils matches) and believes the methodology is flawed because it is based on those who enter HE aged 18-19 and so disadvantages providers such as the OU and Birkbeck.  He believes tacit support for his argument can be seen in this year’s TEF which also included the Indices of Multiple Deprivation as a measure of WP to also take into account factors such as employment, income and health.  Separately, a blog post by John Butcher on the HEA site calls for broadening the scope for outreach to include adult learners as well as school leavers in HE.

Writing in UWN’s 500th edition, Brendan O’Malley describes how the decision to triple tuition fees for English HE students changed history: “For a good case study in unintended consequences, it would be hard to beat the decision passed after a stormy debate by MPs in December 2010 that went on to imperil not only years of higher education reforms but, inadvertently, the country’s future in the European Union.”

And it’s not just PT HE that has been suffering.  George Ryan reports an 800,000 drop in FE learners compared to 5 years ago, so welcome news that an £11.7 million Flexible Learning Fund will back 32 FE projects across England that aim to help more adults back into the classroom and learning new skills, according to skills minister Anne Milton. 

UK and Australian universities are mapping out plans for a closer partnership post-Brexit, with a focus on student mobility, research collaboration and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications.

A new fund has been launched by The OU to offer free study for former services personnel who have been disabled in or as a result of military service.


M(O)OC News

[ClassCentral; ZDNet; Inside Higher Ed; Wonkhe; Steve Parkinson]

Coursera had 1,632 students studying degrees as of Jan 18 with 93% one-year retention rates, and Dhawal Shah reports that the company has taken $9.6m in degree tuition fees to date.  He also calculates the potential revenue from the top three online degrees as being more $80m:

Over 90% of Brazilians who study with Coursera do so in English and yet only 5% of Brazilians speak sufficiently good English to understand university-level courses.  In order to bridge that language gap for the remaining 95%, Coursera has partnered with local universities and business schools to launch 24 Portuguese language MOOCs and one Specialization in topics ranging from project management and software design to data analytics and digital marketing.

Five years ago the Georgia Institute of Technology took its >MSc in computer science, together with $2m of AT&T investment, and offered it entirely online via Udacity at about one sixth of the cost of the on-campus programme.  It now has 6,365 students enrolled but fears that the online version would poach applicants for the campus version were unfounded as research shows that the typical applicant to the online program was a 34-year-old midcareer American, while the typical campus applicant was a 24-year-old recent graduate from India.  There is also evidence that the lower-cost online option attracts people who would not otherwise have pursued an MSc.  Other institutions have taken similar approaches (the Universities of Illinois, Michigan and London– all through Coursera) but none have been able to catch GIT’s low price which was partly due to AT&T’s need/willingness at the time to fund development costs.

Seattle Pacific University’s Rolin Moe disagrees with Sebastian Thrun’s assertion that the MOOC is dead, but suggests perhaps it should be.  MOOCs have never ‘democratised education’ to any significant extent, particularly as many providers quickly branched into paid options.  However, they have affected thinking about and access to higher/distance/lifelong education, albeit mainly for “what sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom calls the roaming autodidact, the visage of a self-motivated and previously articulated learner who happens to be white, male and from a Western country.”  Hence, he suggests that “Despite the earnestness of most MOOC professors, the efforts of development, implementation and assessment have not been shown to be worth their time.”

FutureLearn’s Simon Nelson would no doubt disagree.  The PIE features an interview in which he describes how FutureLearn came about, its relationship with the OU and other partners, and its hopes and plans for the future.


Commercial News

[Louise McCourt; Avril Jamieson; EdSurge; Inside Higher Ed]

Nexford isn’t currently shouting from the rooftops but it appears to be a brand new digital university that will launch with the mission of enabling “greater social and economic mobility across the world by providing students with access to a high quality, affordable, dynamic education that prepares them for the global workplace”.  The company has just raised $4m in seed funding which will be used to build the university’s underlying technology, using AI to offer students a personalised, engaging and affordable learning experience.  This phase also includes designing and building a curriculum from scratch, based on global employer needs.  Nexford is currently advertising on LinkedIn for London-based staff, including a Director of Learning Experience. 

The University of Roehampton London Online, a 10 year partnership between Roehampton and Laureate Online to deliver online PG degrees is no longer enrolling students, “After a careful and joint review of the partnership”.  HESA data shows that Roehampton's international student numbers of grew from 616 in 2012/13 to 6,832 in 2016/17, suggesting that failure to enrol was not the main reason for ending the partnership.

It was announced a year ago that Purdue University was buying most of Kaplan University for $1 and, now that the dust has settled, the two heads discussed at a recent conference how and why this unusual deal came about.  Brief summary: Purdue were concerned about lack of progress in the digital sphere but also over risks of failure, so when Kaplan made an initial approach, “we were happy to get our big, fat foot in the door”.

London-based Technology Will Save Us has raised $4.2m in fourth round of funding.  Formed in 2012, the company creates electronic kits and programmable toys that aim to help kids build STEM and coding skills.  These have been sold in more than 97 countries by over 4,000 retailers.

Book Dog Books, a textbook-selling company, has been found guilty of multiple counts of >trademark and copyright infringement and was fined $34.2 million in a case brought in the US by publishers Wiley, Cengage, Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education.



[FE Week; Jisc; TES]

The government aims to have three million people start apprenticeships by 2020.  Sounds good, but the Skills Commission recently reported that more than 30% of people who start apprenticeships in Britain do not complete them, and that situation is getting worse every year.  In response, Jisc’s Paul Feldman argues that to boost completion rates, we first need to understand why apprentices are dropping out, and greater collection and analysis of data will be key to this.  Demographic, study activity and performance data is widely collected in HE as a matter of routine and is used to predict, track and forestall potential problems, particularly for those students from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jisc’s recently launched Apprenticeship Toolkit may also help matters by showing how effective application of digital technologies can support the delivery of the new apprenticeship standards.  It is aimed at colleges and training providers (including employer-providers), and organisations delivering end point assessment (EPA).

And the University Vocational Awards Council believes that Degree apprenticeships will make up 10% of degrees awarded by universities in the next 3 years.


Closing the STEM Gap

[Campus Technology]

A Microsoft study, Closing the STEM Gap, surveyed more than 6,000 US girls and young women on their interests and perceptions of STEM, finding that they tended to lose interest as they headed toward adulthood.  According to the report: “In middle school ... 31 percent of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are 'not for them.'  In high school, that percentage jumps up to 40.  By the time they're in college, 58 percent of girls count themselves out of these jobs.”   And yet the situation can be rescued through fairly simple measures such as:

  • The presence of role models and mentors

  • Exposure to real-world examples of STEM

  • Encouragement from parents and educators (which typically added more than 20 percentage points to the likelihood of them taking STEM classes in High School)

More advice and resources are available from the Microsoft Digital Skills site.


Lifelong Learning Important but EU Struggling to Hit Targets

[University World News]

A decade ago, the European Universities’ Charter on Lifelong Learning outlined 10 commitments for universities and governments to support the development of lifelong learning in order to secure a ‘Europe of Knowledge’.  One of its goals was to have 15% of the EU population participating in lifelong learning by 2020 but, despite the emergence of new technologies and ‘digital jobs’, coupled with the growing availability of online MOOCs, OERs and other learning resources, the figure (according to Eurostat) had only reached 10.8% by 2016.  The European University Association’s Hanne Smidt considers the various issues and potential solutions including universities which, she believes, “have a distinct role in (re-)educating highly-qualified people who are much needed in all sectors of our rapidly-changing labour market.”


Congress Sets Aside $5 million for OER Development

[Inside Higher Ed]

Despite having failed three times since 2013 to introduce an Affordable College Textbook Act, Congress has voted in favour of a one-time $5m appropriation for >OER funding in the US annual federal budget.  Although details and timings are still being worked out, the cash will fund a pilot programme to create new content and expand the use of OERs.  Major publishers say they ‘appreciate’ Congress's interest in affordable textbooks and Pearson called the appropriation ‘encouraging’ but the Association of American Publishers, “…believes that government should not distort the marketplace by subsidizing OER”.  Hmm.  Anybody remember BBC Jam?


Hefce Latest Reports


Although >Hefce is no more, its website and content will remain open until Sep 18.  This includes a whole bunch of stuff that was posted in the latter days of March, such as ‘Evaluation of the implementation of NSS 2017’, ‘The effect of student characteristics on learning outcomes’, ‘Learning gain in English HE’ and ‘The financial health of UK HE’.


The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) Report

[Inside Higher Ed]

This year’s Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report paints a mixed picture of US online education provision, based on responses from 182 university and college chief online officers. 

Finance.  Online modules are considered overall revenue generators by 45% of respondents, while 18% say they are a net cost and 28% believe they see a mix of profit and loss across programmes.  As for pricing, 74% charge the same for online and F2F programmes, with 18% charging less for online and 23% charging more, citing higher online development, instruction and support costs as the main reasons.

Learning Design.  27% require faculty members to work with instructional designers while 42% offer optional design support.  However, nearly 70% of the ‘mandatory’ group report “lots of” student-faculty interaction and greater design consistency across their online courses.


What Will 5G Mean For Your Campus?


Speaking at the recent Networkshop46 event, Prof Andy Sutton described the potential features and benefits of 5G.  “While 2G was about voice, 3G gave us data and 4G made video an absolute pleasure, 5G is about things.  It’s about connecting things, bringing the Internet of Things alive with massive machine-type communication.”  The availability of greater bandwidth and faster data will also open up access learning from globally remote locations or by using cloud-based apps that support inclusivity, or UK students and staff could access cloud-based resources and VLEs reliably and securely from a wider range of locations.




And Finally…

[Simon Kuestenmacher; The Chronicle]

Know anyone who’s engaged in ‘lively discussions’ about the future of their University?  Big Think offers advice on how to disagree well: 7 of the best and worst ways to argue.

That may have been useful advice for Southern New Hampshire University sociology degree student Ashley Arnold.  She failed an online assignment comparing a social norm in the United States with that of another country because her professor insisted Australia was a continent, not a country.  “We have apologized to Ashley, replaced the instructor, & are reimbursing her tuition for the course,” the university said on Twitter.


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