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e-Learning Digest No 166 - Jun 18

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
19 June 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]

For potential users of Adobe Captivate, Paul Wilson has compiled more than 140 video tutorials that are freely available on his YouTube channel.  [Stephen Downes]



[OU News; Alice Bucheler; Wonkhe; BBC]

The OU has seen the end of direct grants from the government for ‘transitional students’ (who began their studies prior to the 2012 fee increases), removing £10.6 million from the University’s income.  A dramatic fall in overall OU student numbers from 240,000 to 174,000 coincides exactly with the introduction of the changes, with acting VC Mary Kellett commenting, “Stripping people of the ability to learn while they earn deprives them of the chance to improve their lives and deprives the economy of the skills needed to tackle our low productivity […] The Government says it values the role of part-time and flexible study. If so, it must urgently consider some form of ‘flexible learning incentive’ that would help bring down direct costs to students.”

Meanwhile, data from HESA shows an increase in students starting full-time and part-time taught PG courses in 2016-17, up by 22% on the previous year for FT courses and 8.6% for PT.  However, further analysis by OfS shows the increases are almost entirely attributable to courses eligible for masters’ loans, introduced in 2016-17, while non-eligible courses witnessed a 1% decline.

The drop in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the levy is getting more severe, with provisional figures showing 23,900 starts in March – down by more than half from the 50,000 who started in March 2017 – prompting Apprenticeships and Skills minister Anne Milton to defend the programme.  Meanwhile, Tim Blackman claims that degree apprenticeships are bucking that trend and so they should if we are serious about social mobility.  School leavers from disadvantaged areas are still far less likely enter HE than other young people, especially young men, and the number of part-time students has collapsed since the 2012 fee increases.  He also believes they “have the potential to break the mould of a prestige-ridden higher education system” and can open doors to address national shortages in professions such as teachers, nurses, social workers and police officers.

The neglect of part-time and mature students is short-sighted warns a new House of Lords report, Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education, to which the OU was a contributor.  Chapter 5 deals with flexible learning and the evidence and commentary on pp 57-65 makes depressing reading, such as this from Prof Sir Alan Tuckett: “If you tried to design the decline of adult learning opportunities in Britain over the past 15 years, you would struggle to do it as well as we have done it by accident.”

A HEPI survey of 14,000 UK students found less than 40% thought they were getting value for money and that tuition fees, teaching quality and lack of contact hours were the biggest causes of dissatisfaction.  Although many students thought fees were too high, there was also support for the principle of students making a financial contribution for their degree.  The study also showed that almost two-thirds of students, if they had to make the choice again, would still continue with the same course and at the same institution.


Brexit Update

[University World News]

Speaking last month, Theresa May affirmed her desire for the UK to have a “deep science partnership with the European Union, because this is in the interests of scientists and industry right across Europe”, singling out Horizon Europe and Euratom R&T as specific examples.  She also acknowledged that, “such an association would involve an appropriate UK financial contribution, which we would willingly make.  In return, we would look to maintain a suitable level of influence in line with that contribution and the benefits we bring.”

The EC’s new proposal for Erasmus+ doubles the budget for the 2021-27 from €14.7bn to €30bn and trebles learning and mobility opportunities to 12 million people.  It also calls for the future Erasmus+ to be open to third countries, which the European University Association believes is a “proactive response” that would open the door for participation of the UK after Brexit – perhaps even provide a way forward for UK participation in other areas of European HE and research.

A new policy brief from Centre for Global Higher Education finds the proportion of academics at British universities from other EU countries continued to rise after the Brexit vote and is now 17.4% (35,920) across all institutions, 24% in the Russell Group and around a third in N Ireland due to the impact of Irish nationals.  However, there are signs that historic growth is now tailing off, particularly among academics in the


M(O)OC News


The New York Times famously called 2012 the “year of MOOCs” and now Dhawal Shah believes the second wave of MOOC hype is here – online degrees.  So far, ten universities have announced a total of 25 MOOC-based online degrees, with over 9,000 students already enrolled and more than a thousand graduated – which he estimates represents a combined potential revenue of over $80m.  One of the attractions for providers is that content which is initially free creates a large user base and therefore a marketing advantage over traditional online degree programmes where “the cost to acquire a single paying student can reach several thousand dollars”.  His main concern is that that the majority of that content continues to remain freely available, thus extending the breadth and reach of MOOCs.

Udacity, in partnership with Google, is making 12 career courses freely available to recent graduates and mid-career professionals to help them improve their chances of getting a job, no matter whether that’s a first job or a mid-career course change.

Courtney Brown, Lumina Foundation’s Vice President for Strategic Impact discusses NanoDegrees and NanoMasters, working with employers to make high quality education more accessible to the wider US population.  Time will tell if this is possible while companies are cutting costs, but opening up access to education could be beneficial for the have-not population.


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; Avril Jamieson; EdSurge; TechCrunch]

MissionU, whose founder promoted his startup as an alternative to “broken” traditional higher education, has closed after a year, having admitted just one 25-person class.  Joshua Kim considers what lessons can be learned, starting with “MissionU may have failed, but it is not a failure”.  I suspect the venture capitalists who invested $11.5 million may see life a little differently.

The recruitment and staffing company Adecco Group has acquired General Assembly (GA), a coding boot camp operation, for $412.5m.  GA operates 20 campuses internationally including in London, New York, Hong Kong and Sydney, and its course offering has expanded beyond coding to include UX and design, marketing, and product management, offering learners a direct and alternative route to a career.

French MOOC provider and online HE platform OpenClassrooms has raised nearly $70m in venture capital funding.  The company claims to have about 3 million unique visitors each month and it grants its own online degrees as well as those of partner colleges and organizations.  The funding will help it expand internationally, add new programme offerings and build more government and corporate partnerships.

Memrise, a UK based startup that uses machine learning for language lessons, has raised $15.5m in funding to expand its AI platform, adding more features.  The company claims it is used by more than 35 million users worldwide.

Probably of more interest to techies but Microsoft has acquired code repository and collaboration service GitHub for $7.5 billion in Microsoft stock.  GitHub claims there are 28 million developers in its community, and 85 million code repositories, and yet the company has yet to make a profit.


Growing demand for short courses

[Avril Jamieson]

Studyportals, an international platform covering over 170,000 courses across 110 countries, reports that demand for short courses is growing twice as fast as that for degree courses on its study choice portal. Prospective international students are particularly interested in short courses – around half of which are delivered online – in Business and Management (24.9%), followed by Engineering and Technology (12.2%), and Social Sciences (10.6%).  Although demand for degree courses has not decreased, the company suggests that providers should take note and expand their offer to include short courses which cater for the growing trend towards the 'unbundling' of degree content for the modern knowledge economy.


Internet Trends 2018


It’s that time of year again and Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2018 report is here, this time approaching nearly 300 slides containing a thorough if slightly US focused picture of providers, users, usage, trends and implications.  Highlights (IMHO) are:

  • Digital media usage at 5.9 hrs/day with continuing growth on mobile devices (Slide 11)

  • The explosion of messaging (but not on Twitter) (#22)

  • Continued growth of e-Commerce (#45)

  • …and the role of social media in this (#71)

  • Technology adoption/disruption (#143)

  • The growth of AI (#226)

  • The growth of (presumably online only) lifelong learning (#233)

  • Ignore China at your peril (#239)

  • Dropbox and Slack (#264)


ePortfolios – customisation or overcomplication?

[Martin Weller]

Academic institutions risk overcomplicating ePortfolios by customising them and moving the focus away from users.  Martin Weller reflects on a tool that was once intended to collect evidence of lifelong learning but which itself has become a tool that students must first learn to use, creating an unnecessary barrier.  He suggests that perhaps the blog remains a better route to establishing a lifelong digital identity.


Online College Students 2018

[Inside Higher Ed]

The seventh annual edition of Online College Students 2018 has examined the attitudes and behaviours of 1,500 current or soon-to-be [US] students in fully online academic programmes on a range of topics.

Findings include:

  • Mobile-friendly content is critical because virtually every online college student owns a smartphone or tablet which they use to search for their online programme of study (87%) and complete online course work (67%).

  • Three-quarters of online college students pursue a degree for employment-focused reasons and so good career services and the support of a career advisor are increasingly seen as applicable to their post-graduation success.

  • Sixty percent of those who recently searched for an online programme had completed one in the past and, for those who have experienced both F2F and virtual classrooms, 85% feel that learning online is as good or better than attending courses on campus.

  • Although cost is the most important factor in choosing a particular academic programme, many students were willing to pay a little more for one that “best matched my interests/needs” (24%)  or institution with the best reputation (13%) – and 86% felt the value of their degree equals or exceeds the cost they paid for it.


Smartphone Shipments Slow

[Campus Technology; BBC]

Latest data from IDC shows smartphone shipments down by 2.9% in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period last year.  Although users continue to trade up to more premium devices, “there are no longer as many new smartphone converts, resulting in shipments dropping”.  Samsung leads the field, with 78.2m shipments in Q1 (23.4% market share), followed by Apple (52.2m; 15.6%) and Huawei (39.3m; 11.8%).

Shares in Dixons Carphone fell by nearly 20% after it warned of a sharp fall in profits this year and plans to close 92 of its Carphone Warehouse stores this year (but with no job losses).  Chief executive Alex Baldock said the problems were all “fixable”.


Lecture capture, friend or foe?


While there are clear benefits of lecture capture technology, its use is littered with controversy that cannot be easily addressed through policy-making.  It is ironic that the process of recording lectures for the purpose of widening access can reduce active participation, stifle open conversation and change the tone of delivery.  Additionally, where a session includes group activities, students accessing the recording miss out on opportunities to collaborate, making them assimilative observers rather than more active participants.


Can the universities of today lead learning for tomorrow?

[Steve Rycroft; MIT]

A new report from Ernst & Young asks if higher education needs a new paradigm to serve Australia’s needs in the Transformative Age, with the authors considering 4 scenarios:

  • Champion.  Universities are strategic national assets, streamlined by transforming service delivery and administration.  Most students enrol in traditional degree programmes

  • Commercial.  Universities are financially independent with closer teaching and research links to industry.  Students favour degree programmes that offer work-integrated learning

  • Disruptor.  Government deregulates the sector to drive competition, efficiency and expansion into new markets and services.  On-demand learning and micro-certificates dominate

  • Virtual.  Integration of HE and FE, focused on continuous learning and employability through unbundled digital/online courses as humans begin to be replaced by machines

As a result, they recommend that all universities should begin to consider their potential to:

  • Embark on double transformation to optimise and grow

  • Make the shift from being faculty-focused to learner-centric

  • Integrate with industry to co-create and collaborate

  • Re-imagine the physical campus for the digital world

  • Unbundle degree programs and the university value chain

On a similar theme, MIT’s Sanjay Sarma speaks on the future of education, noting that HE is still more or less based on a model that was developed to “train villagers coming in from the country to operate machines”.  In a short but engaging video (10m thesis followed by 5m questions), he speaks on the science of learning, some of the myths, customs and practices that pervade and his views on how higher education will need to evolve to prepare students for the era of AI. 


Greater contribution to OER will increase benefits

[EdSurge, Martin Weller]

Open Educational Resources (OER) are widely used by teaching staff, but commitment to contribute is lacking.  Suspected reasons relate to restrictions on time and a lingering culture to do enough, but no more.  The benefit of OER to students and teachers, keeping content fresh and relevant, is clear so institutions need to change priorities and support faculty staff to enable them to join the OER movement.  Maybe then sustainability models for OER will be more successful.

Martin Weller, Rob Farrow and Dominic Orr are co-authors of a new report from ICDE on Models for online, open, flexible and technology enhanced higher education across the globe – a comparative analysis.  They undertake a deep dive into the online, open, flexible and technology-enhanced education (OOFAT) model, considering different variants, how they are being used, issues and potential next steps.


Blended Learning delivers positive student outcomes

[Campus Technology]

Online & Blended Learning: Selections from the Field is a new e-book that brings together advice and best practices relating to online and blended learning, with contributors describing six reasons why they believe blended learning is so effective in higher education:

  1. Improved instructional design compared to face-to-face counterparts, often with support from learning designers or educational technologists

  2. Increased guidance and triggers as the course environment provides a clear path through resources, activities, and assessments with explicit guidance each step of the way

  3. Easier access to learning activities online, allowing more students to engage with these as and when their learning and circumstances needs allow, which may lead to more complete learning

  4. Individualized learning opportunities according to needs, with automated assessments providing immediate, corrective feedback that directs students to revisit materials

  5. Increased engagement through social interaction, class discussions, collaboration, etc, which may increase the amount of student-to-student interaction, engagement and motivation

  6. Greater time on task through intensified student focus on more relevant work through the course website, with analytics accurately tracking student behaviour


Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments

[Mark Childs]

Newly released by OECD, Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments “explores new approaches to teaching and learning and provides original frameworks and concepts to better understand the conditions through which innovative pedagogies can be developed and scaled”.  It comprises 3 sections, covering broad pedagogic theory, specific approaches (blended, gamification, experiential, etc) and networks of innovative schools.  It’s a dense (200pp) read but with plenty of interesting and relevant content for those in this field.          


Creating the Next in Education

[Inside Higher Ed]

A new report from the Georgia Tech Commission on Creating the Next in Education (CNE) looks ahead to 2040 and offers an ambitious proposal entitled the Georgia Tech Commitment to a Lifetime Education.  The authors identified five initiatives to better understand the challenges standing in the way of achieving the vision of the Georgia Tech Commitment and to create tools, invent methods, and collect data that will be required to make progress:

  1. Whole-Person Education

  2. New Products and Services

  3. Advising for a New Era

  4. Artificial Intelligence and Personalisation

  5. A Distributed Worldwide Presence


Print vs Online – emotional attachment

[Martin Weller]

Martin Weller throws caution to the wind and chips into the ongoing print v online debate, considering our emotional attachment to books as artefacts and also some of the differences between what students say and what they do (e.g. OU students ask for F2F tutorials but far greater numbers participate in online ones).  Considering his own preferences, he notes, “It’s a bit like opera – I like the fact that it exists, but I’m going to be found watching Netflix.”  His conclusion is no great surprise: it depends.


Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018


In their first survey of US Teens Use of Social Media since 2015, Pew researchers find that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and 45% say they are online 'almost constantly', with YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%) the top three apps.  Facebook comes fourth with 51% (a notable fall from its 71% back in 2015), followed by Twitter (32%).  The survey also showed that boys (97%) are more likely to play video games than girls (83%) but girls are more likely than boys to say Snapchat is the site they use most often (42% vs 29%), and teens from lower income families are more likely to use Facebook (70% of <$30k vs 36% of >$75k).



  • Ahead of next month’s Playful Learning Conference, ALT’s Research in Learning Technology journal has published a special collection of 5 new papers on the subject.  [ALT]

  • Apple’s iOS 12 will allow users to monitor how much time they spend on devices and apps, control distracting notifications, and control the device usage for their children.  [TechCrunch]

  • Carnegie Mellon's new Bento browser uses clever UI design to organise and display complex search information on smaller phone screens.  [Campus Technology]

  • Rice University is set to provide master's-level online short courses, starting with Project Management.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • Stencila is open source office suite with intuitive word processor and spreadsheet interfaces that aims to make reproducible research more accessible.  [Tony Hirst]

  • The BBC reports on the YouTube stars, some as young as 12, being paid to promote EduBirdie, which allows students to buy essays from Ukraine.  [BBC]

  • Practising [US] >Instructional Designers offer a variety of tips for colleagues and those who wish to move into the field.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • UK universities slammed for not recruiting enough poor students. [University World News]

  • Thunkable X lets users drag, drop and build cross-platform apps.  More than 500,000 users have so far built more than 1 million apps.  [EdSurge]

  • French President Macron reveals he almost formed an EdTech company.  [Forbes]

  • The Association for Talent Development recommends creating multiple versions of courses to provide personalised learning.  [ATD]

  • Uber’s open source geospatial toolbox allows users to embed maps with rich location data and rapidly render millions of GPS points and derive insights from them.  [Tony Hirst]

  • Increase in unconditional offers from UK universities criticised.  Is opening access to HE really a bad thing? [University World News]

  • Interesting new definition of Information Literacy from CILIP, shifting the emphasis from searching to “think critically and make balanced judgements” about what we find.  [Rosie Jones]

  • Amazon's Alexa can now encourage children to say "Please" and "Thank you" when issuing voice commands; parents can also set time limits on requests and can block some services.  [BBC]


And Finally…

[Simon Kuestenmacher]

What Happens in an Internet Minute in 2018?  Lori Lewis and Chadd Callahan’s simple pie chart shows the enormity of activities taking place in each 60 second span.


And Really Finally…

This will be my last Digest before I leave the University next month.  What began as a short email for about 70 LTS software and web developers back in 2004 survived and evolved over 165 months and an OU Teaching Award into what you see now.  I’m proud of that, and of the fact that I simply got on and did it – no permission, no reviews, no approvals, just a whole bunch of stuff and a touch of irreverence I thought people would find interesting.  My apprentice, Dot Coley, takes over the reins fully next month; she has lots of ideas and I wish her well in delivering them for a further 165 editions.


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