From education to employment

Collaboration in e-learning gives colleges the competitive edge

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

If the UK colleges are to help build and retain a competitive edge globally in the use of learning technology they must collaborate as never before. Colleges may compete for the best teachers and managers in the hope of stretching students and coming top of the league tables. But when it comes to using e-tools of the learning trade to best effect, they must share with their neighbours, pursue a policy of open access and pool their knowledge to the benefit of all.

This is a central message I and Martin Oliver, president of ALT, conveyed in our joint speech to the BETT 2013 show in London last week. And we were in good company. Business secretary, Vince Cable, called for greater collaboration to meet international challenges, in a world where, he said “demand for quality education is growing at an incredible rate. Educational technology is essential to meet this demand both in the UK and abroad. Probably the biggest industry going forward will be education, training and technology”.

The message then is clear – we’re all part of an open learning landscape, or “learnscape” and we have to take a more open approach on several fronts.

BETT is all about learning technology, about procurement and gadgets, case studies, innovation and the next big thing, like “MOOCs” – massive open online courses – aiming at large-scale participation through the web. But at the end of the day, when everyone is back at their desk with bags of flyers, giveaways and business, what does it mean to us? What does operating in a learning landscape that seems like it is dominated by one open movement after the next, mean to us and our learners?

The four examples of openness that Martin and I spoke about were open access publishing, open software, open courseware and educational resources and open courses. The main question we posed was how we can formulate effective strategies to respond to developments such as these and what role collaboration plays in that.

One practical example which we discussed was delivering open courses online, using open education resources/courseware, facilitating the course on an open software platform and possible publishing research or other materials openly via a repository for instance.

This one example opens up a plethora of questions, from business and accreditation models for open courses, to Creative Commons licensing (where authors give people the right to share, use, and even build on a work they have created), online course design (potentially at a large scale), impact of evidence and action research and so forth.

Regardless of the strategy a learning provider may currently be implementing, some aspects of openness will have an impact on it and in our view that impact is only going to increase over time.

The crux of the matter in our address to BETT was that retaining competitive learning provision on a large scale is increasingly challenging and we therefore proposed that “collaboration is key” – collaboration within and beyond our institutions. We proposed the following four interrelated practices as a starting point:

  • Knowledge exchange across sectors to develop effective pedagogical approaches to using technology;


  • Building relationships with communities of practitioners and developers to keep up with the pace of technological developments;


  • Working in partnership with students to build agile and effective learning cultures;


  • Using open resources and platforms to increase competitiveness and employability for learners.

The clear evidence from the BETT Show was that by pooling our knowledge, understanding and resources in learning technology, we will all gain.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed

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