Karolina Kordi

This conversation is closed.

Which are the top 5 challenges higher education institutes face nowadays when it comes to distance learning & how should they be tackled?

Distance/online learning is one of the most hot education topics. There is a plethora of higher education institutes offering distance learning degrees and there are also numerous online platforms offering different courses for free online like Coursera and eDx. Distance learning is truly a vast topic with tons of sub-topics growing out of it. But in this debate group let's start by focusing on higher education institutes and their offerings to distance learning education, the key challenges they face and what should they tackle first in the near future.

  • Oct 10 2013: do its jobI think the greatest challenge that major places of learning now face is their own inertia. This means their own tendency to become more and more bearucratic in their functioning. Slowly the beurocratic parts of the institution becomes more and more bloated growing in size so that in the 1970's the bearocratic part of the University employed maybe 30% of the people at the university, gradually this increased until now there are twice as many bearocratic staff as academic ones. This is a shocking state of affairs. It is hard to believe that this many people are required to do these jobs, which in the end do very little, they do not create new research or development, they do not teach anyone anything. Their main purpose of the beurocracy is to allow the smooth running of the place in order for it to do its job as well as possible. Nowadays it does the opposite, it hinders the work being done there. Not only that but the jobs where anything is actually achieved are now contract work whereas the bearocratic ones are permanent. Something very wrong there.
  • thumb
    Oct 8 2013: The top 1 challenge in distant learning to me is, that it protects itself for not being misused to corrode the existing structures in our education systems.

    It is a tool, it widens the stage, but it is no substitution!

    The moment we allow this to be a new degree of freedom for class society, we've failed.

    It has a much potential to enrich our education, as it can corrode it, so we should always be awake on which side it is used.
    • thumb
      Oct 8 2013: Don't you think though that there is another view of people were distance learning is much more accessible than on-campus full-time learning so for them it does act like a substitute of something that perhaps they wouldn't be able to get otherwise?
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: That is the 'enriching' side of on-line education.

        But once a course is digitized, it is ridiculously cheap to multiply and if a topic itself doesn't need continues updates, like math, languages, history and such alike there is a huge risk, that it will erode the on-campus infrastructure out of budget reasons.

        It is simply cheaper to 'rent' a professor for a video session and to collect specific information in his field once, than to have the same professor full-time employed at a University.

        By running the numbers, there is a huge incentive to send on-campus students home to do the on line-course instead. Multiply this by the numbers of universities in one nation, and it becomes even more attractive. Now take the whole English speaking world together, one course could serve them all ... and thats what gives the corrosive potential to this technology.

        In many countries we already have the split in private and public education. Misused, distance learning can make this even worse.

        So I would suggest, that the overall trends and tendencies for on-campus education get monitored, so that negative changes can be detected and corrected.

        If this is ensured, lets widen the stage as wise as possible, so that education can reach people in this world who didn't have this chance before. Thats would enrich education.
        • thumb
          Oct 8 2013: I agree that there needs to be balance between the full-time and the online higher education in order to avoid one cannibilizing the other. They are both very important. Full-time higher education especially for undegraduates is something everyone should try and experience but when it comes to a Masters or MBA degree at which stage most individuals are already in full-time employment instead of putting your professional development on hold for a year you can keep enriching your higher education qualifications with no disruptions whilst working full-time through distance learning.
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: Distance learning as you described it for full-time employed people has been in use for many years in my country before the Internet became widely accessible, yet compared to regular universities, which are free of charge here, distant learning wasn't, but reasonable priced.

        I just looked it up, at the moment an MBA degree ranges about 1000 Euro, which is about $1359 and covers either a 2 or 3 year period, depending on full or half-time courses.

        This system has not shown any negative effects on the education system so far, even at times in which austerity programs were set in place. Yet the overall system is lacking sufficient final resources in general, but this seems to be a general, chronically and worldwide trend ... :o)
        • thumb
          Oct 8 2013: Sounds like we are on the same page Lejan :-) Just to touch on the fee subject you brought up with your research which I think can also be a challenge. How do you think people would persive such an MBA as affordable or as one to avoid due to the low price it has?
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: Well, if price was an issue, a masters degree earned via distant learning would then outperform any public on-campus degree in Germany, as those come for free.. yet it isn't seen this way here, in fact, it is way more difficult than that... :o)

        Let us generalize ruthlessly and ask the question, who is more likely to get the 'top jobs' in Germany?

        Given my experience only, the pecking-order would be as follows:

        1) Private Universities, ranked
        2) Public Universities, ranked
        3) Distant learning Universities, ranked

        Top jobs are always network-related. And besides connections, there got to be a certain 'stable-smell' to be allowed in. Thats widely known yet, of course, officially denied. There are exceptions and a private University no guarantee, but there is a general trend noticeable or sensible to it.

        Public universities rank second, yet also here 'stable-smell' can make a big differences who is allowed to be let in on top positions. Elite universities outperform lower ranked universities and this goes all the way down the list.

        What private and public universities have in common is, that the people are still young when they earn their degrees and mainly unexperienced in the 'real world' of business. This is crucial to many companies, at it insures those young people to be still 'mouldable' in their fashion. May sounds strange and is officially denied as well, but observable allover the place.

        Last come the Distant learning Universities, as almost all people are much older and already experienced in some other profession. And this is where it can become very difficult. I noticed, that many employers don't like to promote their employees into higher positions, just because those happened to have a higher degree than before. Very sensitive topic, and the usual rule of thumb is often the best advise also here: leave the company if you wish to climb the career ladder.

        Leaving the company at higher age, competing against 'mouldable' youngsters is tough.
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: And as older they are, as more experienced, they won't accept low entry-salaries for their knowledge at a new company ... thats often very difficult.

        Due to the small size of my country, there is no need for young people for distant learning as the next on-campus University is almost anywhere within 'spitting distance'... :o)

        Connections, stable-smell and age are the main factors in who is getting which job in what company. Grades, talent or even hands-on experience differ from company to company.

        I was once told over a beer, that the reason why I got hired before my competitors on that job, was, because of my international working experience. The funny part was, that this company wasn't working much on international levels and only a view times I had English speaking visitors... :o)

        Education is beautiful, but not always necessary in top positions. All of us may have some nice stories to tell on that one ... :o)
  • thumb
    Oct 7 2013: There is a difference between delivering information and actual learning.

    1. Validating student participation and learning.
    2. Ensuring quality of delivery of information.
    3. Assigning credit (nobody I know currently doing this for any MOOC)
    4. Revenue generation (how and can you if not assigning credit, fine aid, student loans...)
    5. Keeping courses/courseware/programs current and updated. (OK maybe not history courses)
    6. Astronomical attrition. But I guess who cares as long as they pay upfront


    There is a move towards outcomes based education and online may be an adjunct to.
    • thumb
      Oct 8 2013: Very interesting points you have listed there Linda. So you think that the way the information are delivered and the quality of them must change in order to achieve the highest possible levels of actual learning when it comes to online degrees ? What would be the ideal information delivery you think for online programmes?
  • thumb
    Oct 7 2013: For the MOOCs, the big issue must be giving high quality feedback on student work. A second issue is offering something less traditional, as MOOCs opened their doors with only a slightly modified (traditional) lecture format, while most experts think a less top-down style of learning will serve students better.
    • Oct 8 2013: Fritzie,

      Could you give a ref for the less top-down style of learning? Sounds interesting. thx
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: It depends how much you want to read.

        For something quick, you could look up "constructivism."

        For something book-length but not a technical read, look at Bransford et al, How Children Learn.

        If you want to read something deeper but slightly less user friendly, Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.
        • Oct 8 2013: thx will work my way down and see how far I get.
    • thumb
      Oct 8 2013: When you are talking about a less top-down way of learning in distance degrees you mean that students much basically know the 'why' first before they move on to the 'how'? Also you are saying that another issue is offering something less traditional. What do you think distanc learning students nowadays look for when it comes to lectures? Higher interaction with the lecture and higher usage of latest technology such as webinars or something more?
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2013: I made no comment about the why and how, though both are part of learning.

        Distance learning by its mature uses technology. But using technology to dispatch lecture may not take advantage of what a distance format can offer. Many claimed teaching innovations are just the old lecture style repackaged, which is what I call top-down, in the sense of information being delivered by a teacher to students.

        As lecture IS the traditional format for education, it is very likely what students expect. The most common MOOC format is such lecture, with the twist that the lecture is broken into about ten minute segments, typically, with a couple of multiple choice questions thrown in between segments to promote more careful listening. Homework assignments are peer graded in the MOOCs, so that is what students probably expect now from a distance course offered free of charge to a massive audience. Students paying for distance learning, say, from a university's extension school, would likely expect something closer to what an enrolled student would get, such as expert assessment of their work and personal feedback and attention from the instructional staff.

        I notice some of the institutions offering distance learning are experimenting with less traditional ways of offering an online course, but this is very new. An example would be an experiment-driven science class in which technology is used to allow students to simulate the experiment or to do the experiment at home and submit data that is pooled with other student data and used in subsequent course presentation.
        • thumb
          Oct 8 2013: It was simply a question of whether that is what you meant by a less top-down way of learning which I see now it wasn't. I do agree with you though that distance learning students expectations from a University is that they are looking to get something as close as possible to what a full-time student gets in terms of feedback and attention which shouldn't come across as completely unreasonable considering they are also paying towards the same degree.