Students increasingly expect that their experience of higher education (HE) will involve the use of online and other learning technologies. As in many other areas of people’s lives, an ‘instant and on-demand’ attitude towards learning has developed, where students expect easier, 24-seven access to learning resources and support. Students see technology as providing them with ways to study more flexibly – whether from home, the workplace, using mobile technologies, on campus, or any combination. The potential of effective online provision is something we believe is already understood by universities and colleges.
Preparing a reponse for the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force on behalf of Oxford University is a daunting task. Particularly difficult since the phrase ‘online learning’ has become so synonymous, for some, with ‘distance’. And for others is so close to their hearts that distance is hard to gain. Many thanks to colleagues who have kept me up to date.
University of Oxford welcomes the early work of the Taskforce. In light of the issues discussed in the update we are happy to share views and experience of online learning. We believe that proper evaluation of online learning, in which the sector can have faith, takes effort, and we are willing to sign up to that effort. We appreciate that a proper understanding of online learning involves the evaluation of a broad range of factors and input from a range of institutions across the HE sector. We do not underestimate the challenges associated with the task.
With an early emphasis on distance delivery the task force commissioned research from TALL to provide an overview of the current UK provision of higher education-level online distance learning. This research suggests that:
- More should be done to provide a simple taxonomy of the wide range of student experiences that currently fall under the broad title of ‘online distance learning’.
- The vast majority of online distance learning offered by HEIs is focused on postgraduate-level provision.
- Most online distance learning can be identified as professional development, or as having a strong vocational focus.
- It can be challenging for potential students to find out about online distance learning courses, with information often hidden in complex institutional web-sites. Where details are available, they frequently fail to provide the full range of information that a potential student needs to make a decision about studying online.
- We need to improve the market intelligence available to give a clearer picture of the position of UK online distance learning in an international context.
Oxford’s response is now available on the LTG website.