New Entrants in the provision of University degrees: Education on the cheap or the biggest shake-up for higher education in our lifetimes?

The traditional route to a University degree has never been more expensive for the student with the recent rise in tuition fees to £9000 per year. This market is now seeing an unprecedented increase in different providers offering degrees. And with this rise comes new ways of delivering degrees. The recent rise in tuition fees to £9,000 per annum has opened the market to private university colleges, challenging the traditional approach to a university education. With the option to fast track degrees over a two year rather than a three year period, the attractive reduction in the cost of a degree makes considerable sense to students as well as to their parents. As a parent myself to two more potential university candidates in the coming years, I am especially interested in how this is all shaping up. I was delighted to have my company chosen as the digital partner in the provision of a new distance degree due to be launched this Autumn. We have always prided ourselves on dealing with pretty complex material for professional learners. This was a natural next step for us. But as a parent, I wonder what choices my two young sons will have available to them in the next few years. Quite a few years ago, I took my post grad. conversion to IT through the Open University. One of the striking comparisons I made at the time was the much higher quality of materials provided by the OU compared to my recent university experience. Universities have been using VLEs (Virtual learning Environments) for quite some years and the open source platform, Moodle, tends to be ubiquitously used for academic supply of learning content for students. The use of the VLE under these circumstances though, tends to be very much in the hands of the individual tutor and there is frequently little consistency across the campus. Distance learning though, is a different environment. There is no teacher in the classroom, so the materials have to speak for themselves. The OU knew this from their earliest days. With the advent of new technologies the expectation of students who have only known the PC and internet age, for whom social collaboration is norm, is very high. The University colleges of the future who can meet this challenge, plus cut the costs of a degree will be way ahead. The prospect of my two boys entering their adulthood with debts of £27,000 in tuition fees alone is not too appetising.  The educational establishment that manages to pull off lower fees with potentially fast tracked routes will be hugely attractive. And it would not have to be distance learning v. campus learning.  For the educationalist to fast track your student, you will need to be able to compliment your traditional tutoring and lecturing with online access to extra tuition time. Another variation on that theme will be the mostly distance provision with much lower attendance but far more intensive tuition. I recall all too well the relatively low number of timed lectures for my degree. Today though, the very short terms plus almost non-existent lectures for my stepson is an eye-opener in comparison. Is this the result of the cuts in higher education? The biggest challenge of all though will be with perception. Can the new entrants truly challenge Oxbridge and the Russell Group? Or will they be seen as degrees on the cheap by students and employers? I hope not. For my children’s sake I hope this is the opportunity to break into new territory and give the traditional route to a valued and valuable higher education a much needed shake-up!

Script or speak? The importance of the learning voice

ImageLast week, I was at the 2012 Peer Award conference and It was fascinating to see how learning professionals had met challenges with a whole range of learning techniques and approaches.  But one topic in particular really resonated with me and that was the subject of voice. Nick Shackleton Jones, Group Head of elearning at BP shared with us their performance support system, which certainly gave a nod to their knowledge management roots.  Stories from subject matter experts feature highly and encouraging people to share how they have utilised this knowledge is a key aspect.  What was particularly interesting though was, being an organisation where learning truly is at the heart of the organisation, if high production values were regarded as important, the business case would be endorsed.  However, a flip HD camera and authentic unscripted videos are the method of choice for these video stories and a good choice it is too. A trusted voice of experience always features highly in our learning design and short videos are often used.  However in the past, clients new to online learning have been rather nervous about this more casual approach to videos and can be concerned that without a script and well polished performance, the credibility of the content could be compromised.  However, it is useful to consider the age old question of how people really learn.  When the debate on formal and informal begins between learning designers, what is at the heart of it is what learners really want to know – how do things really happen around here? There are plenty of ways to package and capture formal learning but having explore the structure, the frameworks and theories, learners then want to know how this plays out around here.  It’s about supporting people through the learning cycle and when learners are ready to try out what they have learnt , the sharing of a story from a trusted peer on how things played out, what worked and didn’t worked its best achieved in a relaxed, informal and earnest telling of a true story is incredibly valuable.  The value is in that story, not in production values – over engineer it and it loses the authenticity and also, the relevance – having a decent handheld camera available to take along to key events, conferences or even over coffee capture fresh insights in context and keep your learning up to date. So it’s time to break down another barrier to great online learning, good stories make for good learning and anyway, the hair and makeup team needed to look good on HD video is unlikely to to get signed off by procurement!

Reflections from Berlin…

Brandenburg Gate at night I was not sure what to expect from online educa. It has been a long time since I had the indulgence of attending a conference with no more responsibility than one presentation. This meant I could soak up the days, attend to the sessions and reflect far more than I normally have the space for. So, on board the return flight, I can write of my main takeaways. The first is the scarcity of business presentations and business people at the conference. It was billed as a conference for corporate, education and public sector but the business angle was thin on the ground. What this did allow me to do though, was to attend far more of the education focused sessions. This gave me some insight into take-up in that sector. Some extraordinary examples, like the virtual electronics lab, available 24 hours a day and always accessible multiple times if wanted. The adoption of cloud computing in schools, an ideal solution providing the school has an eye open for the pitfalls, not least of which is the fact that the kids will almost certainly know more than the teachers to start with. My second takeaway was my love-hate relationship I seem to be growing into with the learning gurus. There is this critical mass (critical being the right word) of gurus jumping into the camp of totally informal learning and rubbishing the formal. If I worked in an organisational role responsible for learning I think I would either feel confused or incensed. Of course, informal learning is the great uncounted factor for many in the past. Unrecognised, unsupported and factored out of L&D strategic thinking. But that has been changing for years. Think Etienne Wenger in the 70s and Peer Drucker, a couple of the truly great thinkers on the reality of learning and systems. It is truly excellent that this has gone full pelt with the recent advent of technology in this space that works, is affordable and socially adopted. The reality of organisational life needs both full-on intelligent acceptance of formal (Aka structured) and informal tucked into a supportive, open, challenging culture. Thats hardly new news though. I did think for one moment that one particular guru last week almost accepted that he was wedded to in-crowd learning groups and accepted that there are other just as necessary norms even within the same organisation. Then he spoilt it all by condeming all elearning as totally irrelevant! It was very heartening to see the scenarios created at the conference embracing different types of learning – totally recommend looking at The trouble I guess, with being a guru, is that you have to back your own brand of wisdom. After all, gurus are vendors too and unpicking your particular take undermines your very own brand. My final takeaway was a surprising one, that an online conference can fail so poorly with adequate technical application at the conference itself. The build up was pretty good, lots of newsletters, albeit as emails, with latest updates and so on. Great myonline facility to pull together your own agenda beforehand. But then came the conference itself. No established #code to enable a consistent twitter dialogue, no interactive technology feedback mechanisms in the sessions, not even a healthy working wifi! Come on Online Educa, you did such a great build up, don’t forget what online means on the day!

‘Training has seen the future, and it’s confused.’ Trainers get social

Having visited this year’s Broadcast & Equality Training Regulator (BETR) Learning and Development in Broadcasting conference, the folks at AV Interactive are a tad downhearted. That’s because the conference focused on the inexorable rise of social and informal learning, placing the role of traditional AV equipment further down the pecking order. However, the article is a great synopsis of the points raised by the speakers, who included former Head of Learning at the BBC, Nigel Paine, Lloyds Banking Group’s learning director, Peter Butler and Donald Clark, director of UFI learndirect and former managing director of Epic.

Blair versus Brown – what does that tell us about diversity in the workplace?

Peter Honey from People Management gives his views on that famous relationship and what we can learn from it “The Blair-Brown relationship has been described as dysfunctional and the extent of the strife between Tony Blair and his chancellor, described in Blair’s memoir, A Journey, leads most people to bemoan the damaging effect this must have had on the Blair government. But looked at another way, Blair and Brown, with different backgrounds and personalities, might have been good for each other. I’m not suggesting it was comfortable, but just possibly it was a splendid example of the benefits of diversity: differences producing something better than like-minded sameness could have done. Click here to find out more