e-learning benefits lessons from Higher education

by | Jul 20, 2008 | Articles

Last year 16 higher education institutions worked  together on the challenge of providing evidence of e-learning success that will help influence academic sceptics and reflect the considerable changes that have taken place in the first few years of the 21st century. 

The resulting publication ‘Exploring the tangible benefits of e-Learning’   makes interesting reading for both academics and for those who are grappling with similar issues for e-learning adoption in the workplace .

The project was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee and they partnered with the Association for Learning Technology and the Higher Education Academy to commission case studies over a range of disciplines including business, health and humanities.. They also allowed the participants to study each other’s work collectively and the results of this analysis provides insights into the drivers behind change and the benefits to teaching staff and learners.

Evidence of success from HE

The most common types of evidence cited included exam results, internal and external evaluation, student feedback, system logs, budgets and anecdotal evidence. Defining tangible benefit ‘taxed’ the practitioners but by working together the evidence built iteratively and groups of higher level benefits began to be defined:

  • Cost Savings/Resource Efficiency
  • Recruitment and Retention
  • Skills and Employment
  • Student Achievement

Other benefits such as addressing special needs, widening participation and social justice were also highlighted. It is worth taking a look at the full report and case studies but some of the examples that caught my eye were those that work equally well in the world of work:

Cost efficiency and improvement process,

The University of Nottingham Medical School wanted to improve the efficiency of assessment but also needed to create more realistic high quality assessment questions including high resolution slides and radiographs – these are particularly expensive to reproduce in paper and technology provided immediate savings in print costs, robustness of assessment. Their use of technology allowed improvements that reduced cost and the time savings were not insignificant either – a cohort of students that ook 10 hours to mark originally was reduced to around 2 seconds!

Delivering to volumes

Increased student numbers in dispersed locations also provide opportunity for technology benefits. The ‘Virtual farm’ of the University of Edinburgh Veterinary School allowed them to maximise the assets of their teaching farms and make them available to increasing numbers of students who couldn’t reach the farms.

Due to growth in numbers on medical degrees, Newcastle University had resource issues in supporting students on placements as they moved further away from campus. Technology allowed them to deliver a ‘regional medical school’ so that learners could access all the resources and pastoral support they needed for their class. High rates of student satisfaction were an additional benefit.  Ensuring that learners are equipped to be ‘fit for purpose’ is a need within education and also in business. The use of blogs and e-portfolio in programmes helps students to develop reflective skills needed in ongoing continued professional development. Newcastle university also worked with employer stakeholders to create an outcome based programme and by using e-portfolio technology they encourage reflection on practice which is a key skill required for practitioners to maange their own continuing professional development.

Providing transferable employment skills

The use of learning technology to ensure that learners have  transferable employment skills was also common.  The University of Bradford developed the concept of ‘simulated patient’. They harnessing e-learning content, enriched with podcast and film clips and links to associated resources around real world case studies to expose students to decision processes and problem solving. Glamorgan Business School created an immersive 3D simulation game to provide experience of how large and small businesses operate, preparing students for employment in the way that only a professional placement could do.

Student retention and achievement is also a significant benefit. The studies in this report evidenced that those taking advantage of e- assessment have seen an average increase in the mean marks of students of around 10% from those who are not.

Managing learning and connecting learners

The use of technology to manage off site learning and to manage professional development is adding value in the performance of students – in one case ‘allowing them to be miles ahead of full term students in terms of  development’. The Hull MA in Legislative studies online  has seen improved student performance over the on campus version of the course, allowing them to recruit students of higher academic levels who are able to fit learning with their own work experience.

Whilst many education establishments use e-portfolio tools to achieve connection with remote learners and reflection on practice, businesses are increasingly looking at social software tools to achieve similar outcomes –whatever the technology , the benefits for those juggling work family and learning look clear.

In summary

I am a strong believer that there are lessons to be learned from the way that different sectors approach common problems. This report from JISC and its partners is a great example. Whilst written primarily by and for academic audiences, it shares some great insights on how employers and businesses can develop different approaches to blended learning and offers an approach to help us review our successes demonstrate value.

Go to www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/case-studies/tangible for full report and links to case studies.

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