Also published on the Educational Technology and Change journal
Recently I have arrived at the opinion that developing a viable distance learning offering is the way to go for Higher Education. Much of the e-learning I've been involved in has concentrated on developing blended learning where there was previous just face-to-face. This is largely like banging your head against a brick wall. This policy is often seen as a safer, less ambitious step along the learning technologies route. THIS IS WRONG!! It's wrong because most of the time the educators and the students don't really want to use technology. They'll do a bit for admin but for learning, no way. It's a face-to-face course. Why tamper with it. I am of the opinion that this is misguided but it's not a battle worth fighting (for now). Fighting this resentment is unnecessary. The most important point is that the participants have signed up a face-to-face experience. Some might not mind adding a bit of technology but it shouldn't take over. Shoe-horning e-learning into an already designed course is like swimming upstream with half the people not knowing how to swim. These metaphors aren't great but the sense is right.
Pushing to develop a number of quality distance learning offerings is, I think, the way forward. Certainly, for any educational institution is a way of seperating you from the competition. I don't there's enough market research in this area but I am convinced there are more and more people out there who can't attend face-to-face but still want to study. With distance learning, the learning is only delivered online. Therefore, the students will engage. They have no choice. But feeling towards this mode of learning is largely eradicated past the the few couple of weeks. For this to work in HE, you need entire MAs offered online, not just one or two modules. This way the market you want can be tapped into to. It's pointless having the odd module online. If a student can attend one module face-to-face, the chances are he/she can, and will want to, attend the others face-to-face. The main problem we face with promoting distance learning is convincing academic to teach in this way. Unfortunately, I fear this problem is underestimated. There's also the issue of whether to run it in parallel with the face-to-face. What about the capacity for this? It's a bold move - one that is hard to take.
I'm pleased and excited that the Institute of Education (my place of work) is pushing the distance learning agenda and working towards increasing what we offer at a distance - we're using the term "Open Mode" (which I like). It's the first step on an important journey in an uncertain time for HE.