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e-Learning Digest No 135 - Nov 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 November 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[The Chronicle; eLearning Industry; Martin Weller; Audrey Watters; TechCrunch; ALT]

Analysis by MOOC aggregator Class Central shows that the total number of available MOOCs has grown from a handful in 2011 to around 3,500 now.  Top provider, not surprisingly, is Coursera, with 1386 courses, followed by edX (698), Canvas (282) and FutureLearn (196) – although there is a big chunk of ‘others’ (790).  Most popular titles are statistics, computer science and business & management; however, the surprise third-most-popular course added in the past year is “A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment” which, along with most other popular courses, comes from Coursera.

Marisa Keramida considers pedagogies and instructional design for “massive” learning, covering the role of tutors/facilitators, assessment, optional activities, the pedagogic differences between c-MOOCs and x-MOOCs and the importance of keeping learners motivated.

Martin Weller blogs on lessons from the MOOC investment gold rush, ending up with “quite a cynical list”, but one which seems to be supported by comments from the great and the good.  Martin’s post was written before news broke of the OU’s further £13m investment in FutureLearn, causing David Kernohan to try an unpick FL governance and finances.

But £13m is loose change for Udacity.  The company has secured a further $105m “to scale the business”, bringing its value to $1bn.  New investors in this round include media and education company Bertelsmann (which buys CEO Kay Krafft a seat on the Udacity board) and Scottish investment management firm, Baillie Gifford.

Harvard has published a report on the first three years of edX, reiterating their stated goals of improving on-campus learning, expanding worldwide uptake of college-level education and conducting research on learner behaviour.  There have been some successes in all of these (HarvardX has more than three million course registrations), although the longer term sustainability of a free model (supported by “generous donors”) is questioned.  Future plans include better support for mobile devices, improved assessments of progress and more flexible course timetables.

If you’ve taken, run or produced a MOOC, Sheffield’s James Little is interested in your views and opinions via a new survey of Drivers, Implementation and Impacts of MOOCs.  He uis also conducting some interviews and would be delighted to hear from you.



[THE; BBC; WonkHE; The Telegraph; University World News]

The OU has re-joined University Alliance to strengthen our partnerships in the HE sector. Part-time study at university level has been hit by recent changes to the way higher education is funded - particularly in England - with a 41% decline in the number of part-time undergraduates over the last five years. However 90% of the UK's current workforce will still be in work in the next decade, and it is predicted that over the next 30 years, there will be 13 million vacancies, but only 7 million school leavers to fill them.

It’s the finance, stupid! is a collection of essays on the decline of part-time higher education and what to do about it.  Published by Hepi and supported by the OU, writers include the OU’s Peter Horrocks and John Butcher, Birkbeck’s Claire Callender and ten others.  Reflecting on the fact that students starting part-time study fell from 258,885 to 116,025 between 2010/11 and 2014/15, Hepi says two-thirds of would-be part-timers now do not qualify for tuition fee loans because they would have to be:

  • aiming for a qualification that is not equivalent to or at a lower level than the qualification they already hold

  • studying for at least 25% of a full-time course

  • following a full course for a specified qualification rather than individual modules 

Also published today is a detailed paper from Bright Blue, Going Part-time, which explores the possible causes of the decline in PT enrolments.  This includes a poll of 1,567 English adults who had considered but ultimately not pursued part-time HE in the past five years.  When these ‘considerers’ were asked the main reason for not pursuing their interest in part-time HE, cost emerged as the major factor (Charts 5.1, 5.2 & 5.3).

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that white British children are now the least likely of any ethnic group to go to university.  Their five-year research found that every ethnic minority – including groups that had underperformed academically like Black Caribbeans – are more likely to go to university than white British children.  It also revealed that within social class, poor white British children are substantially behind each ethnic minority group and even wealthy white British children are behind most ethnic minorities.

Theresa May is planning to make universities responsible for ensuring that overseas graduates leave the country once their courses are finished.  It is thought that the Home Office intends to use data from new checks on those exiting the country as the basis to force universities to take more responsibility for ensuring that graduates from outside the EU do not overstay their visas.  Ms May wrote in a newspaper article earlier this year that the “gap between the number of non-EU students coming to this country and departing each year is 96,000”.  Sanctions for universities with high rates of ‘overstayers’ could potentially include the removal of their right to recruit more non-EU students.

An analysis of the top performers in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme has looked at 4,190 projects and 7,804 organisations that have been awarded H2020 grants, finding that the UK has strengthened its position, along with the Netherlands and Ireland, compared with the Seventh Framework Programme.  UCL tops the list of EC contributions (€49.9m), followed by Cambridge (€44.6m), Imperial (€43.8m) and Oxford (€40.7m).

Labour is warning that up to 4 in 10 English FE and sixth-form colleges could close if the government presses ahead with anticipated savings in this month’s Spending Review.


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; EdSurge]

The University of Florida has cancelled its 11-year online programme management partnership with Pearson after just two years because of a mismatch between expectations and results, and Pearson’s unwillingness to renegotiate.  Come December, the university will “integrate UF Online more fully into core university operations”.

Having sold the Financial Times and its stake in The Economist Group for $2bn, Pearson’s stock has nosedived, falling 16% ($2.5bn) last month after it lowered its profit forecasts due to declining US college enrolments and South Africa textbook sales.

Macmillan is combining its HE division – which produces print and digital instructional materials – and New Ventures group, which has acquired seven startups.  The unified group operate as Macmillan Learning.


Green Paper: Fulfilling Our Potential

[Beccy Dresden; WONKHE; THE]

The government's long-awaited HE Green Paper, Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, was published earlier this month and all of its measures are now subject to a consultation period which runs to 15 Jan.  The entire document runs to 104 pages but there is a comprehensive Executive Summary on pp10-17.  Key themes include:

  • Improving and making teaching standards more visible through the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

  • Widening participation for students from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds

  • Merging HEFCE and OFFA to create a new Office for Students (and might this also impact on the longer term future of HESA, QAA and HEA?)

  • Making it less bureaucratic to establish a new university through faster access to Degree Awarding Powers and University Title

  • Introducing a new student financial protection requirement

Reading’s VC, Sir David Bell offers his analysis in THE, and is encouraging universities to be “robust, strong and coherent in their response”.


Edtech UK

[Matthew Moran]

Edtech UK launched last month –  a new strategic body set up to help accelerate the growth of the UK’s education technology sector in Britain and globally.  It aims to serve as a “front door” for industry, investment and government and a convening voice for all of the education and learning technology sector.  I hope the site improves because I entered the “front door” and didn’t find very much inside, not even a link to their first major report, Edtech: London Capital of Learning Technology (tracked down via Google).  I also can’t help wondering how those major ed-tech players based outside the capital (Thames Valley, East Midlands, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Sheffield and elsewhere) will feel about such a London-centric initial focus.


Edtech’s Next Big Disruption is The Degree

[TechCrunch; The Age]

Aaron Skonnard believes that, by 2020, “the traditional degree will have made room on its pedestal for a new array of modern credentials that are currently gaining mainstream traction as viable measures of learning, ability and accomplishment.”  He believes the drivers are the rising costs of education coupled with an ongoing need to keep knowledge and skills updated in response to changing technologies and a much more volatile employment market, citing the rise of MOOC-based nanodegrees as evidence.

Linda Kristjanson also does some crystal ball gazing, noting that “students are demanding to learn in a way that makes sense to them, which can be very different from the way that students have been taught for decades.”  She agrees that there will be an increasing focus on work-relevant knowledge and skills, and suggests that “As content has become ubiquitous and knowledge more accessible, the skill of the modern academic has shifted away from being an imparter of knowledge to being an integrator of knowledge, creating more personalised conditions that help students learn.”


Will AI Software Replace Textbooks and Reshape Education?


Will Oremus takes a look at an implementation of McGraw Hill’s ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) system which is providing personalised learning according to students’ prior capabilities and ongoing progress.  The role of the classroom teacher changes from lecturer to facilitator/tutor – providing individual support or for small groups with common issues – and the rate of progress.  He also touches on some data protections issues associated with such detailed tracking and analysis of performance.


US Technology Device Ownership: 2015

[Pew; EdSurge]

Latest research from Pew shows that 92% of US adults own a mobile phone (98% of 18-29s), of which almost three quarters are smartphones, and 45% own a tablet (50% of 18-29s).  These are the only device types to show growth over the past year, with PCs, laptops, games consoles, MP3 players and (particularly) e-Readers all in decline.

In parallel with this comes The Common Sense Census which investigated media use by US tweens (8-12) and teens (13-19).  On any given day, US teens average about nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework, with Tweens slightly lower at 5:55.  Watching TV and listening to music remain the most popular media activities but there can be notable differences within and across groups with boys, for example, averaging 56m a day playing video games compared to just 7m by girls.  Unsurprisingly, multitasking dominates, with two thirds believing that watching TV, texting and using social media whilst doing homework does not impair the quality of their work.


One Year Online Degree

[Fiona Harvey]

The Digital Skills Academy is offering a one year online BSc (Hons) in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation for £6750, starting next March.  The course is accredited by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and boasts working with “International virtual team from four continents … on real-life industry projects [and with] Team meet-ups in your local city”.  Entry requirements are an Ordinary degree or equivalent qualification in a related discipline, or an Honours Degree or equivalent qualification in a non-related discipline, although “Without either of these previous qualifications you may meet the entry requirements on the basis of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).”


Online Cheating is Now Big Business

[The Atlantic]

Despite some recent technological solutions, the potential for cheating in online education remains high.  Derek Newton investigates what’s going on and what some leading providers are doing to try and combat fraud.  He contacted a company called No Need to Study and received an offer to take an online English Literature class at Columbia University on his behalf, with a guaranteed B grade or better for a fee of $1,225.15.  One satisfied customer was Muhammad, who had tried taking an online maths course but “the quizzes were just way to difficult”.  He paid No Need to Study and “They absolutely killed my final math and app classes with a 90 percent, and I can definitely tell you I never got a 90 percent before on anything.”


Online-only K-12 Schools Show Poor Performance

[Hechinger Report]

Seventeen US states allow Charter Schools which provide K-12 education entirely online.  However, a new study by Stanford and others has found that online schoolchildren tend to perform much worse than those in an equivalent F2F institution.  For example, some online students showed academic results in maths equivalent to having skipped 180 days of school (almost a full year) whilst in reading, the deficiency was the equivalent of 72 days of school.  Whilst there may be some benefits for learners in remote locations, the report concludes that “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule”.  However, the authors note that online-only schools tend to assign an average of 30 students per teacher as opposed to 20 in traditional public schools, meaning that not all of the problems may stem from online-ness.


Support for Hearing and Dyslexic Impairment


Hearing impaired people may be able to benefit from a new LTCCS (Live-Time Close Captioning System) device which clips on to any spectacle frame and uses voice-recognition to accurately translate language in real-time, with the transcript appearing on a small screen in the corner of the user’s vision.  The developers are currently crowdfunding with the aim of launching in mid-2016 at a lower price than most hearing aids.

The NHS estimates that dyslexia affect 5-10% of the UK population.  Following on from Dyslexia awareness week, Jisc offers some useful advice on technologies and other solutions that can help dyslexic learners help themselves.



[Grainne Conole]

OpenCases is a Catalogue of 50 Mini Cases on Open Education in Europe, published by the EC’s Joint Research Centre.  It covers open courseware, MOOC platforms and institutional MOOCs, plus descriptions of open platforms, repositories and publishing technologies.




And Finally…


The deadline for 2016 Oxford applications passed last month, but what about those bizarre interview questions that candidates mighty have to face?  In an attempt to dispel some of the myths, Oxford has published some example questions and explained what they are trying to achieve by asking them: “They are an academic conversation in a subject area between tutors and candidate, similar to the undergraduate tutorials which current Oxford students attend every week … We are not interested in catching students out.”

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