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Best of EDEN RW8 (Click here to see the articles)

The theme and scope of EDENRW8 reflected the current challenges facing researchers and the intersection of their work with ‘doing better things’ for key stakeholders. EDENRW8 was very focussed on you the researcher and what you can learn from and with your peers.  It took place in an intimate setting where researchers including postgraduate students could share research, connect with peers and have adequate time to discuss the challenges of their work. EDENRW8 was suitable for researchers and postgraduate students and particularly those wishing to actively connect with peers and debate Challenges for research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better: Doing Better Things.

Antonio Teixeira EDEN President invited EDENRW8 rapporteur Tony Bates to share his perspective on the discussion trends and conclusions of the remarkable event.

A Report on the State of Art of European Research into Open and Distance Learning

I had the privilege this year of being the rapporteur for this intense and highly engaged and interactive workshop, held in the historic city of Oxford, and hosted by the UK Open University.

There were almost 150 participants from more than 30 countries, mainly European, although there were also participants from Canada, Australia, USA, Argentina, Israel, Barbados, Mexico and Iceland.

The workshop was deliberately organised to enable participants to meet and discuss their research. The workshop included: 6 keynotes, followed by group discussions of the keynote topics, 7 interactive parallel sessions, with discussions centering around the 42 papers accepted for the conference, and plenary reports on the sessions, an award for the best research paper submitted for the workshop, 7 interactive workshops, poster session with 13 posters, an Oxford-style debate on the impact of open educational resources on higher education, 4 small groups walked and talked along the edge of the river Thames about current issues around open and distance education, a wrap-up plenary session where participants posed questions about research in ODL, and answers were offered by other participants and an optional full-day visit to the Open University.

The result was an immense amount of discussion, questioning and networking.

Open and distance learners/online learners are much more heterogeneous than on-campus students: social background, institutional differences, prior education/learning experiences, all influence their readiness for online learning as a result, ODL students need much more personalization or individualization of their learning: one size does not fit all special attention needs to be paid to ‘at risk’ students very early in their studies: intense personal/tutor support is critical for such students. It can be seen that such findings are important not only for the design of for-credit programs but also for MOOCs.

Concerning course design, we should be working to use technology to decrease faculty workload, not to increase it, as at present this will probably require team teaching, with different skills within the team (subject expert, learner support staff, course designer/pedagogue, technology specialist) to individualize learning increased use of adaptive technology will be necessary.

From the papers, it seems that a ‘European’ style of MOOC is slowly evolving, somewhere between xMOOCs and cMOOCs.

Main lessons (or, to be fair, more questions) in this field: what does awarding badges of certificates for MOOCs or other OER actually mean? For instance will institutions give course exemption or credits for the awards, or accept such awards for admission purposes? Or will the focus be on employer recognition? How will participants who are awarded badges know what their ‘currency’ is worth? Can MOOCs be designed to go beyond comprehension or networking to develop other critical 21st century skills such as critical thinking, analysis and evaluation? Can they lead to ‘transformational learning’, are there better design models for open courses than MOOCs as currently structured? If so what would they look like? Is there a future for learning object repositories when nearly all academic content becomes open and online?

In quality and assessment, research may inform but won’t resolve policy issues. Quality is never ‘objective’ but is value-driven, the level of intervention must be long and significant enough to result in significant learning gains. There’s lots of research already that indicates the necessary conditions for successful use of online discussion forums but if these conditions are not present then learning will not take place.

There were surprisingly few papers on the use of social media in ODL. The use of social media needs to be driven by sound pedagogical theory that takes into account the affordances of social media (as in Sorensen’s study described earlier under course design)

Tony Bates is an EDEN Senior Fellow and the President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd., Canada, a private company specializing in strategic consultancy and training in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education. Having been a founding member of the British Open University, he has developed an intense international career in the last two decades. Tony is acknowledged across the world as one of the best known, respected and influential personalities in the international open, distance and e-learning field.

Dr Ulrich Bernath
Chair, Board of Trustees
Ulrich Bernath Foundation
for Research in Open and Distance Learning
Dr András Szűcs
Secretary General, EDEN

Oldenburg – Budapest, March 2015

E+EDEN contributes to the EU's civil society cooperation in education and training



e-learning, distance learning, distance education, online learning, higher education, DE, blended learning, MOOCs, ICT, information and communication technology, collaborative learning, internet, interaction, learning management system, LMS,

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