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Online higher education courses provide wider access, higher quality and lower costs

03 Dec 2014

Technology is vital in providing accessible education to students around the world, said Sir John Daniel at an event in Wellington for staff from Open Polytechnic, academics and representatives from universities and tertiary education providers.

Daniel is an international open and distance learning expert, and the former vice-chancellor of the UK Open University. Invited by Open Polytechnic, he visited New Zealand and spoke about online education and higher education.

He says with higher education there is an ‘iron triangle’ of cost, quality and access, and this can raise issues. For instance, if classrooms have a high number of students, quality can be damaged. If better teachers and learning resources are employed to increase quality, cost also rises. And if costs are cut, access and quality can be threatened, says Daniel.

To ‘stretch the triangle’ and achieve wider access, higher quality and lower cost, technology is needed, he says.

Open and distance learning is one solution, Daniel says. It has a long history of using technology to offer better education to millions of people through space and time at lower cost, he says.

Daniel says Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were over-hyped in their early stages. He says, if higher education means teaching, learning and credentialing, the early MOOCs were not really higher education.

However MOOCs were significant as they as they indicated a new phase in the evolution of distance and online learning. On top of that, “[MOOCs] led to a greater deal of collaboration within the higher education sector that had been seen with early manifestations of ODL [Online Distance Learning],” says Daniel.

“We must hope that the habit of collaboration acquired in MOOCs will carry over into greater sector cooperation in online learning generally. Governments can help to encourage this with suitable incentives,” he says.

Daniel says New Zealand has an ‘enviable record’ in higher education and New Zealand institutions have a worldwide reputation for quality. Not only that, he says New Zealand initiated open and distance learning before most other countries, and encourage technology innovations with organisations such as the Open Education Foundation.

During his visit, Daniel will meet education officials about the online and distance education market internationally, and discuss where technology mediated learning may go in the future.

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