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More to be done to boost online outcomes say edtech experts

The goals of edtech initiatives should go beyond widening access to focus on quality learning outcomes experts have said.  At the Online Educa Berlin 2014 conference in Berlin this month, education and technology stakeholders said more needs to be done to ensure online education produces good academic results.

Chairperson for the opening plenary of OEB 2014, Aida Opoku-Mensah, Special Adviser, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

"The world market for e-learning is to reach US$51.5 billion by 2016"

They agreed that while MOOCs and e-learning have increased access to developing countries, minorities, and those who might not have previously been able to engage in tertiary education, problems around completion rates, and quality of learning outcomes are still rife.

“The learning gains have become somewhat incremental, trending positively, but we haven’t seen the dramatic lift in learning outcomes that I think we can achieve,” commented Pearson‘s MD of Technology projects, Lisa Lewin.

“The learning gains have become somewhat incremental, trending positively, but we haven’t seen the dramatic lift in learning outcomes that I think we can achieve”

“The reason that we’ve reached our limit in our ability to get dramatic gains in learning outcomes is because we didn’t realise until recently that when you lecture at students, their brain activity actually slows down to below that of sleeping,” added Lewin.

Fellow keynote speaker Howard Rheingold agreed with Lewin and said that as a “proliferation of online platforms” have emerged he has “learned very quickly that we can make this an active, rather than a passive experience.”

Governments were also called on to understand the priority of quality online learning over just increasing access.

“Our problem is that the German governments in many states have discovered e-learning as a means to process more students in a shorter time,” said Jeannette Schmid, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. “It’s a fight to explain that e-learning is not a tool for that.”

Schmid added that as the number of students scales up, the number of teachers has not increased, making the concept of quality online learning, one of necessity.

Chairperson for the opening plenary, Aida Opoku-Mensah, Special Adviser, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) agreed: “If governments are to invest in education, putting money in building schools is not an option, and so e-learning becomes critical.”

Illustrating the global future landscape of edtech, Opoku-Mensah cited: “The world market for e-learning is to reach US$51.5bn by 2016 and the annual worldwide growth rate [for e-learning] between 2012 and 2016 is 7.9%.”

According to Opuku-Mensah, big data and cloud computing are the two upcoming megatrends that will positively enhance the edtech sector.

“Big data is going to make online learning more tailor-made and present more opportunities, and cloud will become the engine power for many activities,” she said.

“It’s a fight to explain that e-learning is not a tool to process more students in a shorter time”

Rheingold, who lectures at UC Berkeley added that as students become more self-motivated, online co-learning communities will begin to emerge over the next two to 10 years.

He coined the term “peeragogy” and subsequently launched peeragogy.org where individuals across several continents learn from each other through peer reviews. The concept approaches learning as a draft that can be constantly refined he argued.

“The web wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for individuals creating on their own, so I think it’s important for us to encourage students to take that power into their own hands,” he added.

“The idea is not to change the institutions from the top-down but to co-evolve their pedagogy, and to enhance and augment their traditional learning.”

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