New ways of learning: digital hype or cultural shift?

New ways of learning: digital hype or cultural shift?

Digital learning in general and, more specifically, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating new opportunities and challenges for higher education institutions. The central question is how do we respond: ignore it as a passing fad or embrace it as a reality? An upcoming dialogue taking place at the EAIE Conference will provide an arena to debate these new forms of learning, asking why and how institutions can integrate them into their internationalisation strategies.

In Europe, MOOCs are gaining momentum, supported by the initiatives like OpenupEd, which is coordinated by the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) and supported by the European Commission. OpenupEd aims to enhance collaboration between various MOOCs projects in Europe. One indicator of growth momentum is the increase in the number of MOOCs courses offered by European institutions: in the five months from May 2014 to August 2014, they increased from 458 to 742, according to the European MOOCs Scoreboard, which aims “to highlight the huge potential that European institutions have in the world of MOOCs.”

In the USA, the initial buzz of scale and growth has shifted towards improving quality of learning. Recently, Google awarded a grant of $300 000 a year for two years to Carnegie Mellon University researchers to explore data-driven approaches to improving learning potential of MOOCs. The grant will support three strands of research:

  1. Enhance personalisation: machine-learning techniques to personalise the MOOC learning experience by evaluating each students’ work.
  2. Reduce attrition: increase socialisation, through mentoring and group assignments and identify warning signs of student drop-outs.
  3. Increase engagement: enhance the pleasurable aspects of MOOCs and enable adaptation of courses global cultural differences.

On the one hand there is support and optimism for potential of learning innovations through MOOCs. On the other hand there is increasing scepticism about it. For example, this thread on The Conversation has a series of articles that primarily focus on the challenges with MOOCs. Likewise, another scathing piece in the Chronicle Review notes that, “MOOCs are just the latest incarnation of bringing watered-down versions of culture, knowledge, and learning to a mass audience.”

Clearly, the landscape of digital learning is dynamic and evolving. It raises several questions for international educators:

  • How do the new ways of learning fit into your internationalisation strategy?
  • What are the emerging trends you should be watching?
  • What should be your strategic response to the trends?
  • What is the impact of your strategic choices on the quality of learning and institutional brand?
  • What can we learn from experiences of other institutions?
  • Who else you have to collaborate internally and externally with to engage with MOOCs?

These are some of the questions which will be addressed in the EAIE dialogue, ‘New ways of learning: digital hype or cultural shift?’ scheduled for Thursday 18 September from 10:00–12:00 . I will be chairing an interactive panel of experts to deconstruct various dimensions of this complex picture. Those on the panel include: Philip Altbach, Research Professor and Director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College; Karl Dittrich, Chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU); Hannes Klöpper, Managing Director, Iversity and Rupert Ward, National Teaching Fellow & Head of Informatics, University of Huddersfield.

Start the conversation by asking a question or sharing your response to some of the questions mentioned above through the EAIE LinkedIn page and Twitter handle: #EAIEDIALOGUE2.

By Rahul Choudaha, World Education Services, New York, USA