Reading: eLearning and the Future of Distance Education

E-Learning and the Future of Distance EducationWhile searching for articles and papers on the return on investment on eLearning in Higher Education I came across the work or Ormond Simpson. Simpson has made many of his papers and book chapters available on his website, and this one – E-Learning and the Future of Distance Education – was especially interesting to me.

“The paper explores the economic concepts of ‘return on investment’, ‘willing to pay’, ‘resale value of an education’ and ‘investment risk’ as they apply to distance education. In particular it will suggest that distance education, both as it stands today and in terms of current trends towards e-learning, may be either too inaccessible or too risky an investment for most potential students, and that distance education will fail to reach its potential unless it can increase its availability in the market and its rate of student success.”

Have a read for yourself and think, as I did, as to whether we are, or should be, addressing the learners pedagogic or financial needs? In Higher Education and especially when considering Masters-level distance learning, the students are more likely to be mature and have a better understanding of the financial implication to one or two years of further full- or part-time study (and be able to fund it).

But that doesn’t help the Institution decide, plan, and implement a course for distance learning – time and effort does not always match the outcome, and there is no certainty that you will get the numbers sign up for the course. You could argue that the first year the course is offered may be the best for student numbers as it’s new and exciting, and the marketing has sufficient drive for the course to fill a gap. Or the second or third year may be better as the marketing and word of mouth will take experience and successes into the marketplace and grow: do you plan for short-term success in the first or second year or plan for the long haul and possibly have low numbers in the hope these will grow? I’m glad I’m not required to make that decision!

But even in these days of £9,000 a year for undergraduate study are we tapping the market as much as we could? Yes there are plenty of examples of fully-online undergraduate courses but how many of these are being filled with recent school-leavers and how many places are filled by mature students coming back to study for personal or professional qualifications?

I fear it is the latter … I wrote about this back in 2010 “As the cost goes up, will the students go online?” as the Government announced the plan to raise student tuition fees. I expected a rush for Universities to take stock and produce a wealth of online distance learning courses. I was wrong. But was I wrong in expecting it, or have the Universities missed a trick and there is still a gaping void in the education market? Are students better suited to finding work and studying in their spare time (or even getting sponsorship and release from their employers)?

What do you think: is the market ripe for online course (for credit and qualifications)? Recent news shows that some US Universities are investigating whether to offer for-credit MOOCs for a fraction of the cost of the campus version. Again, is this the future?

Simpson, O. (2013) E-Learning and the Future of Distance Education, in Distance and E-Learning in Transition (eds U. Bernath, A. Szücs, A. Tait and M. Vidal), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ USA. doi: 10.1002/9781118557686.ch8

Image Source: Pantallas by Olga Diez (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)