Technology vital for accessible education says international expert

Posted on 3 December 2014

Caroline and sir John 2

Technology holds the key to lowering the cost of quality higher education in both developed and developing countries, says international open and distance learning expert, Sir John Daniel.

Visiting New Zealand at the invitation of Open Polytechnic and speaking at a hosted event in Wellington last night, the former Vice-Chancellor of the UK Open University described the “Iron Triangle” of cost, quality and access which he said had created in people’s minds an “insidious” link between quality and exclusivity in education.

“Pack more students into the classroom to raise access and you will be accused of damaging quality. Try to raise the quality with more or better teachers and learning resources and the cost will go up. Cut costs directly and you may threaten both access and quality,” he said.

“To stretch the triangle and achieve, simultaneously, wider access, higher quality and lower cost, you need technology.”

Sir John said that continually raising student tuition fees was no longer a sustainable response to the rising costs and, in many countries, decreasing Government funding for higher education.

In the United States student debt has doubled since 2007.

“This is now a huge factor in the U.S. economy because student loans have topped one trillion dollars, more than all the credit card debt, total car loans or total household debt in America.”

Sir John said that open and distance learning had a long history of using technology to offer better education to millions of people through space and time at lower cost.

The new phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were over-hyped in their early stages but they did indicate a new phase in the evolution of distance and online learning, he said.

“MOOCs are opening up new evolutionary niches for higher education and making some of the existing niches less comfortable, so they are significant,” he said.

“Higher education means teaching, learning and credentialing. If you accept that, then the early MOOCs were not really higher education and certainly not a revolution,” he said, adding that one of the benefits of the craze for MOOCs was that it had led to a greater degree of collaboration within the higher education sector that had been seen with earlier manifestations of ODL.

“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.”

Sir John applauded New Zealand’s “enviable record” in higher education.

“Not only do you have institutions that enjoy a worldwide reputation for quality, but you also initiated open and distance learning before most other countries. You have also encouraged innovations based on technology, such as the Open Education Foundation,” he said.

Open Polytechnic chief executive, Dr Caroline Seelig, said she was looking forward to Sir John’s feedback on the work the organisation is doing in technology mediated learning based on his many years of consultancy and leadership experience on these types of projects.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss the work the Open Polytechnic is doing with Sir John. He has met with a wide cross-section of Open Polytechnic staff who are leading our online projects.”

During his visit, Sir John will also meet with education officials who have a keen interest in what is happening in the online and distance education market internationally, and discussing where technology mediated learning may go in the future.

Along with the Open University, Sir John’s previous roles include serving as Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Education; and President of the Commonwealth of Learning.

He presented his lecture “Are MOOCs the Long-Awaited Revolution in Higher Education?” to staff of the Open Polytechnic, academics and representatives from universities and tertiary education providers in Wellington, as well government education officials.


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