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How digital technology is ushering in a new age of learning

Rebecca Merrett | Dec. 12, 2014
Digital disruption is driving education outside the boundaries of the classroom and into a host of new online opportunities.

However, the activity doesn't come without its challenges.

"We often have to justify what we are doing in terms of business cases, the same as anyone does. So that is the main challenge -- what is the benefit from it, what is the purpose of it? It's a question asked all the time," says Salmon.

"It's mainly about reputation building and outreach to a global community. But not everyone is going to be able to build a business case around this that will be accepted. I think that's the big challenge than it just being free because you can't see where the monetisation or justifiable benefits come from."

Having a strong business continuity plan and ensuring systems can accommodate large numbers of students accessing online material is another challenge, Swinburne's CIO, Derek Whitehead, says. "It's extremely important to have a learning management system available to students 24 hours a day," he says.

"We mainly maintain our own data through our onsite server infrastructure. But we are, like all other universities, looking at other kinds of arrangements -- mostly cloud-based arrangements. For the last four years, we had a hosted version of Blackboard, for example, and that has worked well for us."

Murray has had to accommodate up to 6000 concurrent users from 20,000 participants in a MOOC. Working with the vendor, Desire to Learn, and its data centre in Melbourne, virtual servers were used to help scale up to meet demand.

Sourcing open source, copyright-free material for a MOOC can be a major issue, says Richard Constantine, CIO of Flinders University, which also runs a number of MOOCs using OUA's Open2Study platform.

Under the Copyright Act, material used in a public MOOC cannot be licensed or be material used in private lecturers and classes. So Constantine tapped into the uni's library resources and the knowledge its staff had around sourcing materials consistent with the Act.

Delivering education online as opposed to face-to-face in a classroom also requires a huge shift in thinking and design. As there is no physical interaction with online courses, Constantine says MOOCs need to be highly visual and multimedia rich to keep students engaged.

"It's also about what the key messages are, and how many messages you want to deliver in that segment -- keep it down to maybe three or four. There are a whole lot of studies that show people's attention spans [nowadays] are about six minutes [on average]. So if you really want to engage students or learners, have five-minute videos or sessions... and then reinforce the learning," he adds.

"You have to actually change the way you deliver the lecture; you can't just sit there for an hour and spill it all out like you use to."


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