Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?



In 2012 Carole Cadwalladr wrote about the possibility that MOOCs could lead to the end of universities. Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?  I have been asked to reflect on this question in my current studies

When Cadwalladr wrote this piece in 2012, I was of the view that MOOCs would not lead to the end of universities. This was  due to research I read at the time following 2 cohorts of FutureLearn students (Liyanagunawardena et al 2015) which pointed to the majority of their students already being degree qualified. However, the debate has moved on and I feel this is a much more complex question to answer now, certainly in the UK against a context of higher fees for university education, and as the implications of MOOC development are becoming clearer.

Some thoughts…

  1. I feel that the UK University Model is moving increasingly towards a ‘consumer model’ of education. This is illustrated by some students requesting refunds and compensation for lost teaching time during the current UCU industrial action. Is it too far a step for students to start to compare traditional university degree v paid for MOOC degree as options?

  2. A recent piece in the ICEF monitor explores how major MOOC platforms are sharpening their focus on students prepared to pay for online learning – with Coursera launching undergraduate programmes which have been notoriously difficult to gain traction on previously. and last month FutureLearn announced 5 post graduate degrees would be provided through their platform.

    Each of the above undercuts the costs of a traditional university education with Coursera having a sliding scale of fees depending where you live. This could start to look like a viable alternative to the traditional university degree if fees are your concern, even though the UK student loan repayment system isn’t as simple as taking out any other kind of loan.

  3. Given the above articles, is there a sense that MOOC platforms are developing into online education providers for traditional universities and so will enhance the university offer rather than replace it, giving students more options over how and when they study?
  4. The initial point regarding the make-up of the MOOC participant population is valid but this is becoming less so as MOOC organisations link up with Professional Bodies, Governments and even NASA which grows exposure to MOOCs. Overtime familiarity with MOOCs as a model of learning will grow and probably become accepted as an alternative to traditional degree education.

  5. Acceptance by employers of the MOOC degree as an equivalent qualification to a traditional degree. I think this is potentially the biggest issue for MOOC degree providers at the moment. This requires a societal change of attitude and an acceptance from employers. I feel this will be a major challenge over the next few years.

I feel the two models can co-exist and that there is space for both. Whether, for this to happen, universities remain in their current form or have to reinvent themselves is another question.



Liyanagunawardena, Lundqvist K, Williams S, British Journal of Educational Technology 2015 vol: 46 (3) pp: 557-569 DOI 10.1111/bjet.12261



Pedagogy driven analytics

Ted Major. Dilemma

Capture creative commons

Analytics and pedagogy

The Innovating Pedagogy report, Sharples et al (2015) lists 10 types of pedagogy that may transform education in the future. Here I explore three of them and look at how they could be supported by learning analytics.

Crossover learning

Crossover learning links educational content to those things that matter to learners in their everyday lives. It takes place in informal settings such as museums and field trips and these experiences are enriched by adding in knowledge from the classroom whilst educational experience is enriched by this everyday experience. These connected experiences spark further interest and motivation to learn.

Learners could be supported through analytics on users flow – quickly accessing paths they have previously followed. Teachers could be supported through being able to see where learners were active and how they related their informal surroundings back to classroom learning. This would enable individual follow-up and customisation.

Incidental learning

Incidental learning is informal learning that takes place outside the formal classroom and is unplanned and unintentional. Learning analytics could support the capturing of this learning through analysis of websites visited, how long the visits lasted, which pages were viewed and what was downloaded. Social networking could be analysed to help highlight the breadth of social learning taking place and device use could be assessed to understand which devoces were being used most for informal learning. Ultimately, through analysis, this type of learning may become more ‘visible’ to the leaner and offer a broader picture of the whole learning experience.

Adaptive teaching

Adaptive teaching recognises the unique qualities of learners and aims to offer a bespoke learning experience which engages each individual. Learning analytics could help educators offer a more bespoke learning experience rather than a one size fits all approach. Analysing learners’ previous and current learning creates a personalised path through educational content e.g. suggesting where to start new content and when to revisit and review previously viewed content. Learning analytics can also show and monitor progress. Educators could use this knowledge to ensure their students are on track and as an early warning sign for problems. It may also be possible to deduce which parts of the content are working and overall where students struggle and so can be harnessed to develop and improve the educational content and the overall learning experience.

H817 Week 22 Activity 8: Analytics and Pedagogy

Introducing learning analytics


Norquist. Photograph available here  Capture creative commons

Based on Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges (Ferguson, 2012)

Learning analytics is a new field that has emerged in the last decade with roots in business intelligence, web analytics, educational data mining and recommender systems.

The goals of what can be achieved and how these goals will be achieved still has to be defined.

Learning analytics are different from other related fields of academic analysis and Educational Data Mining (EDM)

There are a number of definitions of learning analytics. The current prevalent definition was set out in a call for papers for the first international Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK2011)

” Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs


There are a number of factors driving the development of learning analytics

  • How business uses analytics to extract value from data sets (big data) to drive recommendation engines, identify patterns of behaviour and develop advertising campaigns
  • Widespread introduction of LMSs is creating larger data sets. This data is being collated but the reporting and visualisation of this has been largely non-existent.
  • Online learning take-up has increased
  • Increasing demand for educational institutions to measure and demonstrate improved performance
  • Emergence of different interest groups; government, educational institutes and teachers/learners

A bit of history

  • 1979: Open University could reflect on 10 years monitoring the progress of distance students course by course
  • 1999: it was slowly becoming clear that collaborative online learning could take place (Dillenbourg, 1999)
  • 2000: EDM (Educational Data Mining) begins to emerge from the analysis of student-computer interaction with a strong emphasis on learning and teaching. In 2007 Romero and Ventura defined the goal of EDM as ‘turning learners into effective better learners’
  • 2001: Second generation web opened up new ways of collecting web content from various sources, processing it and exchanging the results with other programmes (Berners-Lee et al., 2001)
  • In contrast the early use of the term learning analytics referred to business intelligence about e-learning (Mitchell and Costello, 2000)
  • 2003 onwards: socially and pedagogical approaches to analytics began to emerge. Social Network Analysis (SNA) was a significant development. SNA is the investigation of networks and can be used to ‘investigate and promte collaborative and co-operative connections between learners, tutors and resources helping them to extend and develop their capabilities’
  • 2008: Pedagogic theory starts to emerge strongly as an approach to optimising and understanding learning.

Political and economic drivers

Measuring of the quality of education to meet the challenge of declining education standards principally in the USA. ‘Academic analytics’ began to evolve to link data sets with improved educational decision making.

The field is rapidly expanding

In 2008 analytics and EDM split.

Analytical tools are rapidly developing and enabling different types of analysis e.g. LOCO-Analyst which provides feedback focused on the quality of the learning process.

With tools becoming more powerful ethics and privacy issues begin to emerge

In 2010 the field of analytics splits again with learning analytics gradually breaking away from academic analytics. Siemens presented the first early definition in 2010 which was refined and has become the current prevalent definition as described earlier in this blog.

Put simply

  • EDM focused on the technical challenge
  • Learning analytics focused on the educational challenge (optimising opportunities for learning online)
  • Academic analytics focused on the political/educational challenge

Overlaps between them still remain though there have been further attempts to distinguish between them. Long and Siemens (2011)

In 2012 learning analytics were identified as a technology to watch in the NCM Horizon Report.

New tools such as GRAPPLE can now extract data from across an entire PLE

Learning analytics are distinguished by their concern for providing value to learners and employed to optimise both learning from and in the environments which it takes place


Ferguson, R. (2012) ‘Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges’, International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning (IJTEL), vol. 4, nos. 5/6, pp. 304–17; also available online at 36374/ (accessed 6 July 2016).




The Collaborative Project


Yobie. Collaboration available here  Capture creative commons

I’ve been away from blogging for the last few weeks, totally absorbed by a six week long collaborative online project (Block 3 of H817).

My team and I were tasked with building a resource using Web 2.0 technologies to support reflective practice using a digital diary in a vocational scenario. We followed the Learning Design Studio approach to work individually and collaboratively.

It’s been a difficult but rewarding time and the output is still being assessed so only time will tell how successful we have been in meeting the brief.

For now I feel a sense of relief that I am now on the final leg of my H817 journey – Block 4 Learning Analytics.

A first attempt at using VideoScribe

MOOC VIdeoScribe

Here we go…”write about an element of open education you have found interesting” – hmmm I thought I’d have a go at working out loud again and so I created my first VideoScribe video. It’s very simple and took an age to make but I did it!

You can see it here

Are OER both open and innovative

How innovative is OpenLearn?

Looking at OER through the lens of OpenLearn ( to answer the question “Are OER both open and innovative?”

How to judge OpenLearn in terms of my definition of innovation?

My definition of innovation in this context: facilitating a change in practice with technology as the enabler as “technology shapes practice and practice shapes the way technology is used” (Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012) which in turn challenges an established educational norm.

OpenLearn is innovative in the following ways;

  • free of direct cost to the learner
  • openly accessible online
  • individuals can study at their own pace
  • individuals can structure their studies how they wish
  • there is no formal assessment
  • can earn badges and a statement of participation
  • can share some courses with a wider audience through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • some courses enable discussion with fellow students but these usually have a start and finish date for the material although individuals can complete at their own pace as they stay ‘open’

What key challenges facing the OER movement can be dealt with more quickly than others?

Legal: further development of loosening copyright through CC. One high profile example is the Google Library Project which is an attempt to digitalise books held in five major university libraries. There are issues with copyright and some books will only be able to be sampled and reviewed and another – the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty, guaranteeing reproduction rights for blind / VI people.
Practical; providing access to content. 2.4 billion users of the web worldwide. (UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy, 2014), but this has to be seen against the back drop of a current world population of 7.3 billion people (The Population Institute, 2014). Whilst the user figure is remarkable given the relatively short lifetime of the web, there remain issues of inclusion, whether it is lack of access, lack of digital skills, lack of motivation or restrictions on participation or knowledge control by government. Though there is an assumption here that the remaining 4.9billion people have an interest in using the web.

There is work in progress to address some inclusion issues. Governments and institutions are beginning to make their educational resources available online, as of June 2012 45% of governments had an OER policy, (Hoosen, 2012). The UNESCO 2012 Paris OER Declaration called on all governments to make these publicly funded educational resources openly available online. Governments are also active in creating policy to improve digital literacy e.g. the UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy (2014) has been initiated with an aim that “by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be”.

Technical: developing an environment for open access. Technological developments and developments in practice progress hand in hand; e.g. multiple devices through which to access the web and the knowledge stored within it, fast connection and downloads, online practices of sharing, editing and disseminating information and collaborating with others and therefore opportunities for individuals to own and take responsibility for their learning.

How do open educational resources challenge conventional assumptions about paying for higher education modules?

  • cost
  • culture of setting personal study goals, own pace at any time – no need to be at the same stage as everyone else
  • individuals sharing what they know through social media, therefore content is unprotected.
  • consumed and published in different ways – content can be mashed up, reused, developed and republished
  • development of badges and certificates of participation. Substitutes for assessed qualifications.


McAndrew and Farrow (2013), Open education research: from the practical to the theoretical

OpenLearn available at (last accessed 5th February 2016)

Veletsianos, G, & Kimmons, R 2012, ‘Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship’, International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning, 13, 4, pp. 166-189, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 February 2016

Minds on Fire. Open Education, the Long Tail and Learning 2.0


H817, Week 1 Activity 4

In 2008 Seely Brown and Adler reviewed a variety of innovative projects. This blog takes the innovation example of “Adding Community to Content: Learning to Be through e-Science and e-Humanities.” and reviews an example of this –  The Decameron Web.

Decameron Web

This blog addresses the questions:

  1. Is the project still running?
  2. Have any more papers been written about the project since?
  3. Has the innovation been adopted by users other than those in the original institution where it was developed?


Question 1

There is evidence that the project is still running. The most recently published syllabus is for Spring 2016 and the Spring 2016 ‘Twitter Pod’ is active. The creators of the site actively encourage participation in developing the site

“ we warmly encourage all of our users to make full use of these materials and to participate actively in the site’s expansion. Please feel free to send us your comments, ideas and, if you like, even contributions to be added to what is already here.”

Question 2

There a large number of writings regarding the Decameron Web as an example of innovation in learning. Some examples;

  1. Teaching Literature and Language Onlineby Ian Lancashire, Modern Language Studies, 42, No. 1 (SUMMER 2012), pp. 100-104
  2. Open, Social and Participatory Media, Grainne Conole, in Designing for Learning in an Open World, Volume 4 of the seriesExplorations in the Learning Sciences, Instructional Systems and Performance Technologies pp 47-63 (2012)
  3. Contemporary to the Future: the Classics and Digital Humanism, Massimo Lollini in Humanist Studies and the Digital Age, Vol 3, no. 1 (2013)

Question 3

The innovation has been adopted in other institutions. Some examples:

  1. World of Dante. Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities, University of Virginia – worldofdante.orgWhilst there is no explicit request for active participation in the sites development there is an opportunity to take a survey on any activities teachers conduct with their classes.
  2. Romantic Circles Project
    Romantic Circlesis a refereed scholarly Website devoted to the study of Romantic-period literature and culture. It is the collaborative product of an ever-expanding community of editors, contributors, and users around the world, overseen by a distinguished Advisory Board.” blog entry December 2015 (as at 9th February 2016)
  3. NINES
    NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) is a scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first. Our activities are driven by three primary goals:
  • to serve as a peer-reviewing bodyfor digital work in the long 19th-century (1770-1920), British and American;
  • to support scholars’ priorities and best practices in the creation of digital research materials;
  • to develop software toolsfor new and traditional forms of research and critical analysis.”

The latest posting January 26th 2016 (as at 9th February 2016)


Seely Brown, J. and Adler, R. (2008) ‘Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0’, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 16–32; also available online at ir/ library/ pdf/ ERM0811.pdf (last accessed 26th January 2016).

The Decameron Web, available online (last accessed 5th February 2016)

Learning to work out loud

I have long been fascinated by the work of John Stepper in Working Out Loud and have been thinking long and hard about realising the benefits… and challenges!…. of articulating and refining my thinking and practice in a public space. More recently I have been inspired by Jane Bozarth’s excellent book Show Your Work. Though lacking the courage to begin in earnest I have been lurking in the shadows, reading, reflecting and learning from other’s work.

Now, as I begin to study “Openness and Innovation in E-learning” at the Open University, I am presented with the opportunity to explore and experiment. My intent is to push my personal boundaries as I progress through this 30 week journey and to develop “working out loud” to become just the ways things are done around here.