Research in Distance Education (RIDE) conference 2017: Developments in online CPD and degree provision

The eleventh annual RIDE conference took place last Friday 24th March. There were three main themes: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), OERs (Open Educational Resources) and Innovation.

Opening keynote: Simon Nelson, CEO, FutureLearn

Whilst we at City, University of London do not currently offer MOOCs through platforms like FutureLearn, Coursera or EdX we do offer two distance learning Masters level degrees; an LLM in International Business Law and an MSc in Global Finance at the Cass Business School.

Continual Professional Development (CPD) and degree delivery through FutureLearn

One recent development Simon Nelson talked about was the use of platforms such as FutureLearn to deliver not just taster MOOC courses but also partial and full degree programmes. Since May 2016 UK universities such as the University of Leeds have partnered with FutureLearn to offer academic course credits for degrees and MBAs. Institutions such as St George’s, University of London, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the British Council offer programs that allow learners to demonstrate CPD and to achieve formal professional accreditation.

Growth of distance learning in UK and Australian universities

The shift in provision from traditional face to face university delivery of learning to distance delivery through MOOC platforms is a growing one. Recent notable developments in this area include King’s College’s King’s Online initiative and the recent announcement by the University of Leeds that they are partnering with Pearson to develop and deliver 12 online Masters-level degree programmes.

In December 2016 FutureLearn announced a partnership with Australia’s Deakin University to offer a range of postgraduate degrees which is the first time a MOOC provider has offered several degrees, fully online, entirely on its platform. If you are interested in reading more about the interplay between universities and MOOC providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera this recent article in The Economist is well worth reading.

Online CPD in healthcare

These developments in online learning are relevant to the School of Health Sciences where I work as we consider future plans to expand our current degree and CPD provision. For example, it is now possible for cohorts from within an NHS trust to be mass enrolled onto FutureLearn courses to access CPD sitting behind a paywall. An alternative Simon Nelson talked about was for open healthcare courses which have a significant advantage over courses on closed institutional platforms in that they can include a community of health professionals, students, patients and carers bringing a much wider and deeper perspective to learning. This more open approach also has significant potential for inter-professional learning. Find out more about FutureLearn’s work with healthcare providers.

User experience (UX) and learner experience (LX) of MOOCs versus traditional VLEs

One notable theme that emerged from other speakers at the conference was how poor the user experience of traditional VLEs is for both students and staff. MOOC platforms have significantly increased the quality of the user experience particularly on mobile devices  (FutureLearn was designed from the start as a mobile first experience). Many MOOC platforms also provide high quality multimedia content and a focus on pedagogic quality. With regard to this last point it was interesting that Simon Nelson referred to FutureLearn as a social learning platform and set out how it was designed on the basis of decades of research into distance learning pedagogy by the Open University. One example he gave was that (unlike most VLEs) social chat happens within the content you are consuming not in a separate forum which allows for contextual conversation. He gave many examples of the high levels of social engagement this approach has generated on FutureLearn courses. Simon also shared that they are currently developing a study partners feature which will facilitate learners supporting each other more.

Are UK universities moving quickly enough in this era of digital learning? 

Simon Nelson had some challenging messages for those of us in the audience from universities. His view was that MOOCs open up education and kick start digital transformation but that he hasn’t seen any UK university moving at a fast enough pace to fully take advantage of the possibilities offered by technology. MOOCs also offer an opportunity for universities to rethink who their audience is which links to important considerations for universities such as widening participation and opening up access to education. To conclude on a positive note Simon took the view that if universities go through a fundamental digital transformation then they have the potential to be more relevant than at any time in their history.
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2 thoughts on “Research in Distance Education (RIDE) conference 2017: Developments in online CPD and degree provision

  1. Hey Thomas – sounds like a great event. Interesting point about most social chat happening within context, which makes a lot of sense.

    One small comment here – nice blog post layout! Plenty to digest and explore from 🙂

  2. Thanks Dom, yes I would highly recommend the RIDE conference. I am planning a couple of more posts based on the two other main themes: Learning Analytics and OERs.

    The high levels of social chat which seem to stem from this contextual approach are interesting given that we hear fairly consistently from our academics that there is a very low level of engagement by our students with Moodle forums. There is a feature within Moodle that allows for contextual comments (Comments block) but I rarely see it used:

    It will also be interesting to see their new study partners functionality as this must aim to further develop their courses as communities of practice. It may even facilitate face to face support for learners (this is just speculation though as study partners is still in beta and Simon didn’t outline how it will work).

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