Feature: Learning Technologies in Higher Education

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Cyber CafeDespite the failure of the UK's online university, UKeU, many higher and further education colleges are expanding their use of learning technologies. Ted Smith looks at the findings of his own survey into how educational institutions are using e-learning and how they can get more out of these technologies.

Learning technologies are now high profile in further and higher education. There are three main drivers for this:

  • Strategy and funding: The Department for Education and Skills in England now has an e-learning strategy, which it is progressing through its various funding bodies, and the Scottish funding council is also actively promoting e-learning.
  • Inspection: Government inspections of further education and sixth form colleges are now looking for the use of information and communication technologies in the curriculum.
  • Learners: Students are demanding more on-line materials, both for on-campus and off-campus access.

In early 2005, our company conducted a survey of learning technologists and their managers to determine how their organisations were deploying learning technologies / e-learning.

Ninety-two people from 55 universities, 15 further education colleges, and three government agencies participated in the survey.

Key conclusions
In three-quarters of organisations, learning technologies are high profile, but only about a half of institutions have a clearly articulated strategy for their use, and almost 80% are not providing adequate resources to support developments.

In almost three-quarters of institutions, students are asking for more modules to be delivered in association with the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – this term is used instead of Learning Management System (LMS) in education.

The VLE is well-used by academics in only one-third of establishments, and only a third provide additional time for tutors to develop materials. Many institutions are not providing good tools that permit tutors to assemble their own on-line materials.

The "Managed Learning Environment" - where the VLE and other information systems are integrated - is still a long way off in most institutions.

Waste
There is a danger that existing investments in information and learning technologies will be wasted unless institutional leaders:

  • Develop a clear strategy for learning technologies, and provide adequate resources to implement it.
  • Provide good staff training for academics and learning technologists.
  • Provide good authoring tools for academics, and time for them to develop materials.
  • Integrate the VLE with other information systems - the student records system being the first priority.
  • Provide a good IT infrastructure that supports the deployment of learning technologies.
  • Reconsider network security policies to ensure that they do not unnecessarily limit developments.

For more information on the full report email Ted Smith on tedsmith@ts-consulting.co.uk.

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