Distance Learning initiatives reviewed

On Friday, Paul Bacisch of Re.ViCa gave talk and led some discussion at the University of the West of Scotland, just along from my own office. One of the key aspects of his talk was consideration of the Open Learning Innovation Fund – a large HEFCE initiative to support the development of distance learning activities of UK universities. But not for all the UK – as HEFCE’s remit only covers England, Scotland (along with Ulster and perhaps also Wales) is not covered. This would seem to put Scottish universities at a significant disadvantage, however as Paul’s talk amply showed large investments of money do not always lead to success.

Indeed many of the largest and most well funded distance learning projects fail to cover their own expenses. Paul has some direct experience of this from his time at the UK eUniversity, and his presentation was on the same day that THES reported on the small returns on investment so far from the large international U21Global collaborative distance learning project.

Technology is not a differentiator, with VLEs available to all – pedagogy is more important than technology. But Paul he was particularly critical of the lack of market research involved in many of the larger projects, and highlighted a number of success stories. These tend to be home grown, organically developed, and as likely to come from the FE or commercial sectors as from a university. Basically, universities that are doing it right have got a head start and are succeeding – most universities are not.

Meanwhile world markets are not sitting ducks – Paul pointed out that distance learning offerings come from over 100 countries. As well as other British institutions, American, Canadian, and European universities, colleges and companies, recruiters have to also consider the local competition.

At the end of the meeting it was interesting to discuss with other faculty from across the university about where we might be going wrong with some of our own DL offerings. Illuminating, but nothing I can share here ;-)

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