Can education reform produce sustainable citizens?

Can education reform produce sustainable citizens?


I have always defined the purpose of education as producing a ‘sustainable citizen’, someone who takes responsibility for themselves and thinks about contributing to solving problems, personal, local and global.

Without getting too embroiled in semantic arguments about the meaning of education, it is worth considering this on a higher level to inform the discussion on how to change education, which so prevalent now.

These are some extracts from Mina O’Dowd’s paper, which puts forward a holistic view and humanistic outcome.

Extracts from Education Reform and Philosophy of Education: Mina O’Dowd (2007) – What needs to happen in education?

‘In short, education has been re-defined, or as Harris puts it: It has become “impoverished” by its re-definition in terms of learning. “Learning is valued for its contribution to the preservation and growth of the learning capacity…while little meaning is attached to the meaning of individual’s life…The value of education as important in itself is not recognized. There is no recognition of the purpose of education as a means of questioning the self and society. There is no space to think about difference and what it means in a globalised economy” (Harris, 2007, p. 354). Harris goes on to describe the effects of what Wain terms performativity: “knowledge has been reduced to information. Instrumental reasoning, new regimes of accountability, and strict adherence to the economic imperative”, not only characterise higher education, but increasingly influence an understanding of what education is and what its goals are. This re-definition is furthered by a “measurable input-output model of education” with “unambiguous aims and objectives, learning outcomes and a transparent assessment system”, which are all features of a pervasive education model, a model which perpetuates a view of education as instrumentalism” (Harris, 207, p. 349).’ (O’Dowd, 2013 p6).

The purpose and benefit of education

‘Understanding oneself and one’s position in the world and in relation to others is one of the main tasks of education, as is instilling an understanding of “the infinite process of struggle”, which can not only transform education, but “educate all of us about the “great things that can happen when you fight for what is right” and look at the world through a third set of eyes” (Buras & Apple, 2008: 31). Knowledge and understanding cannot be seen as two separate processes. They do not bear any resemblance to information, nor do they lend themselves well to “instrumental reasoning, new regimes of accountability, and strict adherence to the economic imperative”. Most importantly “academic subjects and high status knowledge …is essential for traditionally marginalized students in a world where epistemology and stratification are closely linked” ‘(ibid: 297), (O’Dowd 2013 p6).


‘The emancipatory power of education is not an unimportant issue, although there are those who wish us to view education as a “cognitive-technical process through which factual content is transmitted” ‘(Buras & Apple, 2008: 297). (O’Dowd 2013 p6).

So what is it?

‘It is argued that surface learning, or reproduction, the categorisation of information or the replication of a simple procedure, bear no resemblance to knowledge. It can furthermore be argued that surface learning is neither the aim of education nor the aim of human endeavour. The value of surface learning is questioned, other than as a standard by which to acquire and allot grades in a system in which accomplishments, understanding, insight and comprehension are displaced by a numerical representation that works well in a complex system of evaluating the outcomes of the system itself. This is a system that has increasingly come to view people as “individual units” solely intent on maximising their own benefit, dis-regarding socio-cultural differences and the effects of social and structural inequality and discrimination on the basis of race, religion or gender, while allotting the free and unregulated market a god-like stature, in the concerted effort to increase economic growth, the purpose of which remains unclear.

Standish (2005) protests against a view of education as restricted to that, which can “be given expression, measured, standardised and quantified”. Rather he maintains that what is taught “should not be conceived in terms of banks of knowledge, or transferable skills or competences of whatever kind” (Standish, 2005,p. 61). Citing Oakeshott, Standish argues that learning a subject is “the initiation into a conversation, a conversation of which we are the inheritors”’ (Oakeshott, 1989 as cited in Standish, 2005):

‘Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation, which, in the end, gives place and character to every human utterance (Oakeshott, 1989).

It is also in conversation in which we re-affirm our humanity, learn to listen to others and recognise our responsibility for them.’  (O’Dowd 2013 p6).



Digital learning is better says leading publisher

Digital learning is better says leading publisher

This is fascinating and could be a landmark statement by the CEO  McGraw-Hill, David Levin.  He says in a plea, reported in the Huffington Post,  ‘Dear students and faculty: please go digital’.  He then cites a number of figures from their own research stating that students perform as much as 50% better online than those reading books.

I am not going to disagree with that!

Of course, they have a commercial ‘axe to grind’, they are publicising their own adaptive learning system.  But, as usual, it’s a great idea and a great statement, but there is no explanation of strategy or how this is to be done.

At best, it is a simplistic article nevertheless it raises the right issues.

The question is  how do faculty teachers, in ‘American speak’, and students manage this.  Teaching is somewhere between an art and a science and teachers need to understand how to change their methods to allow for this online learning environment which is not just a question of content.  It’s also a question of methodology and how it needs to be adapted to the learning needs of todays digital natives.

The other interesting question it raises is, why do we need publishers? Most of the content created is created by subject matter experts, many of whom are, or were, teachers.  If we are publishing in an online environment why do the teachers need a publisher to publish the content online for them when they’re quite capable of doing this themselves.

In fact, with our new concept they will not only be able to do it more effectively but also gain a better understanding of what sort of methodology they should be adopting!

What publishers are usually talking about is not e-learning but simply e-books.  Albeit, in this case the  progress through the books is being tracked  and we could presume there is some attempt at creating learning pathways to tie the content to.

However we can do better by allowing teachers to create their own interactive online content, in their own online spaces, to share with their students or to sell to other teachers  – without the intervention and margin of  a publisher. Of course, as teachers, we want to encourage further reading around the subject but directing students to further online research and content by subject experts is developing crucial life skills.

If you would like more details about our online education solutions do get in touch. If you’d like to be kept informed of our exciting new developments in online learning please register on our site.



How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed?

How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed?

In my last two papers ‘Education needs to change’ and ‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’ I dealt with the state of education now; it’s failure to change, and the incapability of e learning to be able to adequately address these changes.

Now I am going to look forward, but apparently not very far, and see how e learning 3.0 will change education forever.


2015 is the year it will all change and that’s now! The e learning industry is currently worth $56.2 billion and is set to double this year.

“Universities won’t survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast.”

The trends

Here are some interesting predictions about e learning from

1. In 2011, it was estimated that about $35.6 billion was spent on self-paced e learning across the globe. Today, e learning is a $56.2 billion industry, and it’s going to double by 2015.

2. Corporations now report that e learning is the second most valuable training method that they use. This is no surprise, given that e learning saves businesses at least 50% when they replace traditional instructor-based training with e learning. Not to mention that e learning cuts down instruction time by up to 60%.

3. Today, it’s estimated that about 46% college students are taking at least one course online. However, by 2019, roughly half of all college classes will be e learning based. This free report takes an in depth look at the important role that technology now plays in the educational sector.

4. E learning is also eco-friendly. Recent studies conducted by Britain’s Open University have found that e learning consumes 90% less energy than traditional courses. The amount of CO2 emissions (per student) is also reduced by up to 85%.

5. Over 41.7% percent of global Fortune 500 companies now use some form of educational technology to instruct employees during formal learning hours, and that figure is only going to steadily increase in future years. For a more in depth analysis of e learning in the enterprise you may find valuable the Kineo e learning in the Enterprise Survey Results 2013 and Info graphic learning-in-the-enterprise-info graphic/

6. The world’s most rapidly growing e learning markets are Malaysia and Vietnam. In fact, the estimated 5 year annual growth rate for the Asian e learning market is 17.3%. That is the highest compound annual growth rate of any global region.

7. Self-paced ‘s growth rate in the Middle East is 8.2%, and its revenues are expected to reach $560.7 million by 2016.

8. The self-paced e learning market growth rate in Western Europe is 5.8%, and it’s estimated that their revenues will be at $8.1 billion by 2015.

9. Africa’s compound annual growth rate for self-paced e learning is 15.4%, and their revenues are expected to reach $512.8 million by the year 2016.

10. According to a report released by IBM, companies who utilize e learning tools and strategies have the potential to boost productivity by up to 50%. For every $1 that company spends, it’s estimated that they can receive $30 worth of productivity.

11. According to a recent study conducted by The Research Institute of America, e learning has the power to increase information retention rates by up to 60%. That means that, not only is e learning more cost efficient, but also it’s more effective (in terms of how much knowledge is truly acquired during the learning process). This article discusses how e learning helps to boost retention rates by reducing cognitive overload.

12. It’s been estimated that nearly 25% of all employees leave their job because there simply aren’t enough training or learning opportunities. On the other hand, companies who do offer e learning and on-the-job training generate about 26% more revenue per employee.

13. 72% of companies who were included in a recent survey stated that e learning helps them to keep up-to-date with changes in their industry, which helps them to remain competitive within their niche. It was also found; in a study conducted by Bersin & Associates those companies and organizations that did have a strong learning culture did better in their market than those who do not. For example, these organizations are 46% more like to be the leader in their industry, note a 34% increase in their ability to respond to the needs of the customer, and are 17% more likely to become the market share leader.

So why is this happening?

Well, the world has changed and many people haven’t notice! It’s now online and so are we.

Fig 1 - Global Digital Snapshot

Figure 1, 2015 worldwide Internet, mobile and social media trends


‘Staying up-to-date on emails, social media and other means of online communication is a bigger time requirement than people may realize: New research has found that the average user (USA), spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting and using social media and other forms of online communication.

That number represents nearly 14 per cent of the total time in a week.’

‘Britons are spending more time than ever on the internet with the average user now online for more than 15 hours each week.’

An in creasing amount of access is on handheld devices making learning truly mobile and accessible, almost anytime and everywhere. ‘ E Marketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014 ’.

Users of social media looks like this, the highlight being 71% of the adult global internet user population using Facebook. So nearly three quarters of the world is online in social media. All images are taken from The Pew Research Centre[6]

Fig 2 - Facebook users

Fig 3 Linkedin users

Fig 4 Instagram users

Fig 5 Twitter Users

So what does this mean for our learning styles and predilections? It appears that not only have our learning styles changed, but we need a different approach from the Victorian need for equipping people with facts. Then, in the industrial revolution, there were scientific laws and engineering formulae that could be applied safely for a lifetime and that needed to be retained to be used daily. Now with the ability to access the internet and store information digitally to carry with you anywhere, even in the pocket of a pair of jeans that is less important.

We have as many facts as we need in our pocket and if we don’t, we simply go online and find out what we need to know, on a ‘just in time’ basis, then store it on our cell phones.

Telephone engineers and roadside car assistance engineers have computers in the vans which hook up to a central database of information, they don’t need to learn it, they just need to know what to do with the information.

So what we need now is skills to use the facts, not just the facts themselves.

Additionally, the world of commerce, culture and social trends is changing so fast that facts themselves are changing fast too and no longer last a working lifetime. Therefore we need to access them frequently to check and update our information.

Yuri Quintana says in his paper ‘Evaluating the Value and Effectiveness of Internet-Based Learning’

‘One of the most prominent trends in distance education is the emergence of Open Learning, which has been defined as “a student centered approach to education which removes all barriers to access while providing a high degree of learner autonomy”. The Internet supports the open learning concept by providing students with the ability to connect to educational resources when it is convenient for them, and allowing students to explore the educational resources in an order that suits their needs. In an open learning environment the teacher no longer serves as the keeper of knowledge. Instead the teacher acts as a tutor, facilitator, and resource to assist in the student’s learning process.

Each student has individual preferred patterns or methods for learning which need to be recognized and supported with the appropriate learning technologies. Some example of learning styles or instruction include:

1. Visual or Spatial Learning – The ability or preference to learning information using graphical images and 3D models of objects. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include the World Wide Web and all its images, and 3D modelling languages such as VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language).

2. Musical and Sound Learning – The ability or preference to use of music and sound to understand educational material. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include downloadable sound files on WWW and real time on-demand audio.

3. Intra-Personal Learning – The ability or preference to learn by encouraging or requiring students to understand their own feelings, interests, goals, etc. Internet technologies that support this type of learning are interactive questionnaires on WWW or downloadable multimedia applications (also known as applets).

4. Inter-Personal Learning – The ability or preference to learn by discussing with others. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include text, audio and video conferencing, e-mail, discussion mailing lists, and news groups.

5. Linguistic-Based Learning – The ability or preference to learn by understanding words and language and reading. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include gopher, lynx (a text-based WWW browser).

6. Mathematics-Based Learning – The ability or preference to learn by understanding mathematics. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include new formatting methods that can be used to display mathematical equations on the WWW.’

The change in behavior

So, clearly and unequivocally, more most people are connected and using the internet and social media.

There appears to have been changes in behavior as a result, with learning styles changing and many teachers reporting this as an inability to focus or concentrate!

‘There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday.’

‘In fact the symptom of boredom is because the lesson is not student centric and in the wrong medium. Teachers are trying very hard to adapt and many say they have to become entertainers to hold the attention of students! This is a losing battle and admirable though their efforts are, a waste of effort.

Instead what should be happening is that education should be embracing the technology and adopting the ‘flipped classroom’ approach.

‘It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach: With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time.

Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference.’

I accept that this seemingly small change is difficult to achieve. We find that having to learn new skills, to encapsulate a lesson into 5 minutes, learn how to produce and edit videos and produce e learning challenges teachers.

But there is significant evidence that more and more teachers are looking in this direction and moving towards this type of model.  I have an example that proves that the process and the age of a teacher, as is often argued, is not a barrier.

My example is Jim Baker, a retired teacher. He retired from full-time teaching in August 2008 after 38 years at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School, Lincoln (formerly Lincoln School). He was Head of Chemistry and Deputy Head of Science in charge of behaviour management within Science when he retired. He practised the ‘Flipped Classroom’ before the expression existed! He created his website to promote independent learning and to make his materials available to students when they wanted them. This led to a revolutionary piece of teaching.

‘The site is now available for creating forums on which students can ask/answer questions and share problems/solutions with each other and with the teacher are in place. In schools where these are used, feedback from the students is very positive. Students should be told (or if not told, they should ask) what their next lesson is about. The students can then read about the topic before the lesson and have questions ready to ask.

They will learn far more from that lesson than ‘going in cold’. (One understands a film far more having read the book first or having seen the film once before). In addition, they will ask their questions in the lesson on that topic. When students have a lesson they have not prepared for (because the topic of the lesson was not known), they do not learn as much during the lesson. In addition, they cannot consolidate and come up with questions until after the lesson. They then ask their questions next lesson (if they remember). The next lesson may be days ahead and on a different topic.

Most students I asked did not know what they would be doing in their next lesson. I told them always to ask so they could prepare for it beforehand. They started to do this and all said they ‘got far more out of the lesson’ having read about it first. My views on homework are simple: students should choose their own homework whenever possible. Setting the same homework to a class is not very productive. Students who achieve full marks are wasting their time spending it on work they can do. After a lesson the students’ needs will differ. Student A may have understood the first part of the lesson but not the second part. Student B may have understood the second part but not the first part.

So, student A needs to spend his/her homework time ‘getting to grips’ with the second part of the lesson whilst student B needs to spend his/her time ‘getting to grips’ with the first part of the lesson. By doing this each student is maximising his/her time. In addition, a student is more likely to do homework they choose and see the need for.

I am a great believer in independent learning and I put the above ‘homework theory’ into practice in 1998 with my 14 ‘A’ level Chemistry students. The ‘A’ level grades obtained by these 14 Chemistry students in 2000 were: 8 Grade A’s 3 Grade B’s 3 grade C’s I think the results prove the theory works (the same students’ results in ‘less demanding’ subjects were not so good). Parents need educating on homework. They must not assume ‘more homework means more learning’.

This is indeed a glimpse of the future delivered by a 61 year old man who plays Baker Street on his website!

What this illustrates is that students are motivated and more successful by becoming independent learners.

‘The Flipped Classroom’ is a way of using technology to maximise the valuable face-to-face contact time by exploring, supporting and giving further explanations.

In the ‘flipped classroom’ model feedback is almost instant, the student gains motivation from this and progresses faster.

The other important factors in the model are learner motivation is stimulated by social contact and the independence and control fostered.

Juxtapose this style of learning against the traditional rigid system, which only allows everyone to progress at one time and where you have to wait a week for feedback. The student becomes demotivated because there is no time for explanation, except by his friends. Most importantly there is little time for exploration, support for learning and revisiting concepts that have not been understood the first time.

What will these new systems and learning practices look like?

In my opinion the changes will be far reaching.

More content will be available online in new and different learning environments which are more learner centric and which measure progress inside and outside a formal course.

More employers are becoming interested in informal learning and this will become recorded for use in recruitment. This is already being recorded and ‘badged’ by MOOCs and other online course providers but this trend will go further and become more common and useful.

Teachers are likely to be divested of the mundane clerical roles thrust on them now to leave time for them to create exciting new materials to motivate and excite learners.

School timetables will be changed and many lessons could be online and even include streamed video lessons from teachers outside the school, or even the country.

Schools contributions will change to become daytime guardians providing secure places to study whilst parents are at work. They will focus on providing social, cultural and emotional guidance and support and the curriculum will be much wider, freer and less time constrained.

Theoretically a student could choose to study any subject from Astrology to Icelandic Language because the external teaching resource could always be found though e learning.

Special learning needs support will improve as a result of being available online and costs will be reduced as each school will benefit from economies of scale as they will not have to maintain an uneconomical resources for a few students. Instead the cost will be spread efficiently across a larger number of students. Time will be better used and specialists for less common conditions will be available regardless of distance and time.

Ultimately teachers would be doing what they should do best which is creating knowledge and a curiosity for learning, not babysitting and filling in forms.

We are now in the age, not of life-long learning and continual learning, but constant learning. By this I mean that we will, of course learn throughout our lives but we will also learn all the time as and when we need to know something.   

Technology, culture and commerce are moving at an ever-faster rate and we must keep up to remain relevant, valuable and employable.

This is the real social and learning style change that education has to accept, understand and facilitate.

So the world has changed, as has our behavior. This year I predict that we will see many of those changes, which have already begun, accelerate and become widely accepted.

We will look back at those historic discussions about whether e learning would ever be accepted or replace classroom learning and wonder why we ever had any doubts!

As teachers and trainers we need to embrace these exciting new opportunities and learn the new way because our students already have!

List of references 

1. Peter Drucker 1997


3. E Marketeer Report July 2013,

4. The Daily Telegraph February 2015,


6. The Pew Research Centre

7. The New York Times website,

8. The Flipped Classroom, Bill Tucker 2012,


Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?

Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?

‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’

This paper will deal with the current state of e learning and learning systems and the next paper will deal with the future look and feel of the world of education the technology it will use and what the effects will be.


The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

‘The application with perhaps the greatest influence on education and society is e learning’[1]

Many argue that e learning is not new at all and that it is distance learning in new clothes. It is true that distance learning, or correspondence courses, have been around for more than one hundred and fifty years, but I would disagree!

In the 1840’s Isaac Pitman taught his students shorthand by a ‘correspondence course’ [2]and my mother was able to qualify as a music teacher aged 16, via the same method through Trinity College of Music in London in the 1930’s.

In 1924 Pitman’s students could test themselves and later in 1954 a teaching machine was invented at Harvard University.

However, it was only in the 1960s, that the first computer based course, PLATO, was designed at the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA. Today that university is still a world leader in e learning.[3]

In the seventies we saw see the Open University in the UK exploiting e learning very effectively to deliver learning over a distance to thousands. In the early eighties with the dramatic reduction in the cost of computers, led by companies like Apple, home computing took off. The widespread use of the Internet and dramatic rise in broadband speeds enabled video streaming and video conferencing which now enables people to learn anywhere at any time face to face.

In education the term lifelong learning has been much talked about for many years. Nowadays, however, with most people doing some kind of research, online training, or learning every week, positioning us firmly in the true age of.

It is the widespread adoption of e learning at all age levels, in schools and commerce as well as by individuals which is what is making online learning news now. Everyone seems to be talking about it, or doing it and that isn’t a misleading impression.

‘The five-year compound annual growth rate, (E learning,) is estimated at around 7.6% so revenues should reach some $51.5 billion by 2016.’

‘According to IDC, the number of PCs will fall from 28.7% of the device market in 2013 to 13% in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8% in 2013 to 16.5% by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5% to 70.5%.’[4]

The Pros and Cons

When you take part in e learning you are taking part in a virtual experience. You are working on your computer, or increasingly, another device, connected by the Internet to a website where you meet your fellow students, tutors, where you access materials for your course and where you are tested.

Until very recently students studying online have been mainly in the late teenage, or adult age group, but that’s all changing. As governments all over the world push their education programmes online, for all ages, e learning is reaching a much younger audience.

Here are some examples

  • In September 2011, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan announced they would buy 500,000 new computers every year with the goal to have a one to one student to device ratio by 2020. Additionally, their goal is to have 90% of schools equipped with broadband connectivity by 2020.
  • In early 2012 the Japanese government passed the Distance Education Universities Law that authorized the online programs of 54 universities and 11 distance education junior colleges
  • In May 2012, the Vietnamese government announced sweeping reforms to the education system that will be instituted in the next four years. The government has been aggressively equipping schools with technology and broadband access to the Internet.
  • The military run telecom operator Viettel will provide free Internet to all
  • 29,500 schools reaching over 25 million students and teachers in the country.
  • In June 2012, the Italian government announced that they were on track to equip 34,600 middle school classrooms and 62,600 high school classrooms with computers and digital content by the start of the school year in the fall of 2012.
  • In June 2011, the South Korean Education Ministry mandated that all instructional content in all primary and secondary schools must be 100% digital by 2015.
  • In China, the central government develops and controls the academic curriculum. As of 2010, the entire primary and secondary curriculum was online in China. Although the content is online, relatively few students have access to it yet. The Chinese government’s goal is to have their entire K12 population of over 200 million students online by 2020.[5]


We can already see that many of these new e learning programmes are story, character and game based, providing a glimpse of the future of e learning.

However, in conventional e learning, you can learn by a hybrid model where you meet up for physical classes sometimes, or not at all. You can learn asynchronously, or synchronously. In other words you learn live online using audio, video and whiteboards, or by yourself, sharing information after the event with nobody else present. In most cases, good e learning will be a combination of all of these functions.

In most cases you will be using a learning environment, or LMS that has this usual type of functionality.

  • Secure user name and password access
  • Document storage
  • Internal communication by message, mail or video
  • Tracking of progress through courses
  • Assessment and grading
  • Management of students records and progress
  • Accreditation

Many of these platforms are available to access on handheld devices making learning truly mobile and accessible, almost anytime and everywhere. eMarketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014 ’.[6]

7 - Figure1

Figure 1 Number of Internet Users February 2015



E learning is now widely adopted because it is a convenient, scalable efficient delivery method, which reduces costs. If the materials are constructed in the right way it can be entertaining and can now even be delivered in a virtual world.

However, if you define the original e learning as 1.0 and the new as 2.0, we can examine and identify the differences and see what’s holding back progress.

In e learning 1.0 there was a feeling of solitude and loneliness. You would probably log on to a sterile looking website, devoid of graphics, looking like a poor website. You would read a document and be asked to fill in a radio button quiz, with no feedback, or comments. The experience was devoid of warmth and generally not something that promoted high completion rates, or any cognitive awakening!

There might be a phone discussion with a coach, or tutor, but no contact with other students.

Compare that to version 2.0. The interface is well designed and the landing page can be personalized for each user. There is a social networking application that connects you with other people studying your course, who you can link up with you to share ideas. You will be encouraged to blog and have live video sessions with tutors and other students.

Assessments give instant feedback but you can book tutorials to discuss your work and seek further clarification, or support. You will be encouraged to share your ideas and work with other students.

Initially there were concerns about whether e learning actually worked and teachers saw it as some Orwellian conspiracy to replace them with machines! As usual with these kinds of views they are based upon lack of knowledge and insecurity.

Despite the widespread use of e learning there is much that is poorly conceived and constructed which has given it a bad reputation, and rightly so.

For e learning to work a number of things have to be in place, most importantly a motivated student!

The software has to work, the materials must be valid and engaging, so teachers have to know how to construct e learning materials themselves and have the skills to teach online.

The learning environment has to support social learning interaction and the content should be SCORM (Searchable Content Object Reference Model), compliant and operate within the learning environment and not simply be uploaded PDFs, or Word documents.

Perhaps most importantly the environment has to support the student’s independence and not promote an old-fashioned ‘school’ culture.

As you will see from the above references to governments driving their education programmes onine the enigma is that very few people understand how to create good e learning, or have the skills to be able to do it.

There is a very good argument to say that the question being asked of education as a result of the e learning revolution is, ‘Is current teaching pedagogy valid anymore?’; this in itself is the reason that so much e learning is not fit for purpose.

‘Although e learning has attracted much attention it’s adoption has outstripped our understanding of the technology from the educational point of view. The value of e learning is in it’s capacity to facilitate communication and thinking and thereby construct meaning and knowledge. Upon reflection, it should be no surprise that most research into using technology for educational purposes has shown no significant differences in learning outcomes between traditional and technically advanced media. Why would we expect to find significant differences if we do essentially the same thing we always have done (both teaching and learning activities) except that the medium of communication has changed or a deficient approach has been enhanced with some visually appealing or entertaining technology.’[8]

The detailed issues

Lets explore some of the barriers.

Valid and engaging materials

For materials to be ‘seen’ and tracked in an LMS they have to be SCORM compliant. SCORM is technical standard that enables code to be written so that materials are complaint and can use the features of any SCORM compliant LMS. It’s a de facto standard for producers of e learning but there is a more recent variation called Tin Can API, which also works outside the learning environment and enables information to be traced in external environments for learning purposes.

SCORM enables materials to be seen and tracked within any learning environment, enabling tracking of student’s progress, assessment and grading.

Until very recently the SCORM engines have been very expensive and outside the reach of normal people which has meant that producing e learning was very difficult for teachers and the province only of e learning technologists. This has recently changed and the common tools to produce basic e learning are now available as is any other piece of software. This is of vast significance. There result will be a clearing of the log-jam for the nearly 6m teachers with materials to publish who cannot publish them easily currently. (UNESCO Statistics 5,883,894 teachers 2012).[9]

Trained teachers

Despite the very strong push of governments all over the world for teachers to adopt and use e learning there is little or no training available and no easy tool for them to convert materials into e learning. It’s not going to work is it?

The result is more poor e learning on poor systems.

Student independence

In addition to these factors I have already discussed the issues that the education establishment have in facing the new and different type of pedagogy required to engender successful learning. ‘The third age of education (Technology), has already started, and technology and the Internet have created it. However, education is in direct conflict with the way people have now become used to learning.

Education is not generally accepting that it should change its methods. For this reason it is not in tune with the Technology era, rather than adapting and using the changes to produce better education, they are resisting the inevitable, and this is causing frustration for teachers and learners.’ [10]

Social learning

The other aspect that is mitigating against good e learning is the social aspect of e learning. For good e learning, and you could argue, any learning to happen there has to be a social element.

‘At the core or of the e learning context is a collaborative transaction’ [11]

Education institutions are struggling to understand that the new technology is not just a means of delivery, or a way to make materials more entertaining, but actually affects the learning.

With in excess of 74% of online adults using social networking we can say that the worlds has changed.

social media

As of September 2014:

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook
  • 23% of online adults use Twitter
  • 26% use Instagram
  • 28% use Pinterest
  • 28% use LinkedIn[12]

Despite these clear and unequivocal figures the idea of sharing and collaborating during the so-called, learning process, is forbidden in schools! It’s called cheating! Yet, absurdly when you reach the workplace this asset of cooperating with colleagues is a highly prized asset.

What are the current systems and do they suit the current teaching methods?

The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand, for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

Let me explain.

E learning systems are provided for, and sold to, the education establishment and commercial organisations for teaching and training; and are designed around the needs of teachers and trainers, not learners, or trainees.

The way that organisations want to educate is still based on the pedagogy of classroom training that was designed for a different generation, media and social conditions.

Therefore, even if teachers were trained, could accept the changes in pedagogy, could construct the materials and would allow students to behave as they want, e learning would still not work as it should!

Let’s look at this in detail.

‘We can be so familiar with the medium that we can be ‘anaesthetized ’to the mediation it involves: ‘we don’t know what we are missing’. Insofar as we are numbed to the processes involved we cannot be said to be exercising ‘choices’ in its use.’ [13]

Many of those using e learning are unaware of what it is and how it needs to be used effectively. They assume it is a delivery mechanism into which you put your content, in the same as you use in a conventional course, or lecture, but allowing your students to access it online. The main benefits being saving photocopying, distribution and making them accessible to students online to download to their own hard drive.

I remember one department meeting when the primary reason for the faculty head wanting us to put our lecture notes and module details into the learning managements system was so that we could reduce our expenditure on photocopying! Not surprisingly he is an economist!

It is also true that students don’t understand why they should be using these systems. I had one mature information systems class on a CIPD course that virtually rioted when I said there were no ‘handouts’. I told them the information had been loaded on to the learning management system. Eventually with some management pressure I gave in and photocopied all the notes times twenty-six students resulting in mountains of paper and a huge photo copying bill. In the end they decided there was too much to carry home and the notes were wasted!

So in essence teachers consider e learning as a new convenient delivery and storage system. Unfortunately, that is not the way current generations of students see it, (excepting my CIPD students)!

There is now a younger generation of teachers, thankfully, who would like to embrace new media and e learning, because they have grown up with it and use it every day, in the way it should be used, for ‘micro, or bite sized’ learning.

The systems being used however are based on the old pedagogy which is not designed for this medium, and therefore the technology is just being used as a delivery method or a way of enriching the content, using exactly the same methods of teaching as would be used in a face to face situation. A radical change in design of the software would not be effective because the teaching and training establishments would not want to use a system which proposed a teaching process that they had not been trained in and which gives students more control.

There is the enigma.

For the education establishment to understand that the mores have to change with in it’s own culture, will take time, but it will happen, and that will be an exciting change.

Therefore, because the technology is not understood and it’s designed for face to face pedagogy, technology in education is doomed to limited success.

The informal learning habits that people have become used to will impose themselves on education in the same ways as they have on other sectors, business, government, medicine, finance and social structures.

I believe we are on the edge of a revolution in education that will have widespread effects.

First education is, and will become for everyone, a part of everyday life, all ones life. It is already possible to find facts any time, any place anywhere, and this trend is being extended into education and training. Furthermore because the social, cultural, economic and business scene is changing so fast, people have to constantly to train and learn.

Education is changing and the main benefit will be that there will be more of it and it will be more accessible. There are exciting times ahead.

That trend is clearly demonstrable, Moodys said

‘The recent rush by leading universities in North America and Europe to create collaborative networks offering free online courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) marks a pivotal development for the higher education sector. MOOCs signal a fundamental shift in strategy by the industry’s leaders to use their powerful brand reputations to get ahead of rapid technological changes that could destabilize their residential business models over the long run. We expect positive credit effects to develop for the higher education sector overall as elite universities offer more classes for an unlimited number of students across the globe through-low cost open courseware platforms. However, there will eventually be negative effects on for-profit education companies and some smaller not-for-profit colleges that may be left out of emerging high reputation online networks.’[14]

The effects of these changes will also be fascinating to observe and we hope that it may lead to solutions for some of the world’s problems, terrorism, prejudice, poverty and lack of basic education itself. Many of us hope for this and there are thousands working towards this, a very optimistic situation indeed, I am sure you will agree!



[1] Garrison and Anderson (2003)



[4] A Report by Docebo,

[5] Ambient InSight





[8] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[9] UNESCO Statistics 2012

[10] Chris Heron Education needs to change

[11] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[12] The Pew Research Centre

[13] Chandler (1995 : 10)

[14]Special Comment : Shifting Ground : New technology begins to alter centuries old business model for Universities–PR_255083



Education needs to change – a white paper

Education needs to change – a white paper


‘There is a revolution in the air’, the words of a popular song in Easy Rider, circa 1961. If you listen to the lyrics, the words mean nothing. On this occasion the ongoing debate about education, much aired on social media networks, does mean something.

What is happening and how will it work out? This question I have addressed in this paper the other key issues will be dealt with in two supporting papers.

They are, ‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’ And ‘How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed’?

There are some interesting indicators.

What is education for?

I suppose we need to start by considering what is education for?

I like Victor Hugo’s definition, He who opens a school door, closes a prison.’ Victor Hugo

Although, Einstein is less complimentary about the process, Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. ‘ Albert Einstein

No one can be fully at home in the world unless, through some acquaintance with literature and art, the history of society and the revelations of science, he has seen enough of the triumphs and tragedies of mankind to realize the heights to which human nature can rise and the depths to which it can sink. R H Tawney, [1]

Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann felt that education should prepare people to be good citizens and assimilate them to a common culture. Jefferson thought that the people needed education in order to make wise policy decisions. Mann was committed to common education as a path for developing social cohesion in an immigrant nation.

In essence, surely, education is about assimilating certain cultural norms. From this base, new generations must adapt these norms to deal with current economic and social challenges. In this way, novel solutions to these issues can be found and implemented.”

Schools and the education system were created to fuel the industrial revolution, and there were two eras and now perhaps, a third. The Church era, the School era and now, the Technological era.

The first education initiatives were organized by the Church to recruit new members and the first school in the UK was “The Kings College School, Canterbury” in 597 A.D.

The Church organized all education and the values taught were Christian. As the requirement for practical skills emerged with the industrial revolution, the uneducated workforce moved from the countryside to towns to find employment. There was an increase in social problems caused by leaving children alone while parents worked. Government took control to reduce these social problems and introduced apprenticeships to improve labour force skills for the industrial revolution. The education was minimal, and the focus was on skills for employment.

Children were ‘put out’ to the skilled families, where they lived and worked with the families while they learned their trade. Needless to say, the adopted values and opinions were taken not then from parents but from the families they were apprenticed to as they depended on them for their very existence on a daily basis. Latterly Guilds were formed to assess and control the quality of the output, and these are still in existence in London today.

Those children who were going to school prior to becoming apprentices received basic education but access to University education and better jobs depended on social position and social networks. At the higher levels of society, the family network was also a political and economic network with girls marrying strategically and boys being dispersed largely between the army, commerce and the Church.

Schools and Universities controlled content and subject matter, but curricula were limited and not standard.

The focus was on learning facts for life. These laws were guiding principles for life, whether you were in a trade or a profession, and assessment was based on recycling these facts because they were so important to performance in the workplace.

Rather surprisingly the current focus is essentially no different, if you remember the last exams that you took! Even in higher education we are still largely judged on our ability to recycle facts.

Now the curriculum is much wider and controlled by government, supposedly to match the skills output to the job market. However, as the post 16 unemployment figures are increasing, we have to conclude these efforts are not successful.

Technology is now present in the classroom, but the teaching methods only use it as a medium for holding and disseminating information, rather than by using it to create interest and motivation in students.

Here is the key point.

The third age of education (Technology), has already started, and technology and the Internet have created it. However, education is in direct conflict with the way people have now become used to learning.

Education is not generally accepting that it should change its methods. For this reason it is not in tune with the Technology era, rather than adapting and using the changes to produce better education, they are resisting the inevitable, and this is causing frustration for teachers and learners.

So what is happening and what evidence is there for it?

In summary people, learning styles and general behavior have changed as a result of the Internet and the, ever more, cheaply and readily available technology.

Information and facts are available on the web 24/7, and it’s constantly up to date. In response to the connectivity, government, commerce, medicine and the way we live our lives, have all changed radically, with so much being ‘in The Cloud’.

We work remotely, correspond with each other instantly across the globe for free, and can access finance, education, and any information online. As a result we are used to communicating with people we don’t know and we are now creating vast social networks, where we cooperate and share information informally.

As a result, we have no problem with finding common interests with people we have never talked to before and have broken down barriers. This disruptive technology offers no hiding place for poor business models, bad government, or valueless concepts.

Ever faster evolving technology and faster flowing information have changed financial markets, employment, education and our private lives. No longer do we have a job or set of skills for life. We need to be constantly updating and training ourselves just to stay abreast of our jobs and the pace of private lives.

Whether you are a doctor, or an electrician, you have to constantly update your workplace knowledge. Individuals, with access to free education and training, are taking control of their lifelong learning and receiving it on their phones, wherever, and whenever they like.

People are learning as and when they need, for as long as they wish, and in whatever medium suits or interests them.

There is no registration or teacher and no assessment is required, providing significant evidence of the move away from traditional education and towards a more informal social education where learners are in control. Alison, an online training provider, now boasts 4m learners [2].

Here are some extracts from research papers, NGOs, and other sources.

‘These new learning niches enable people of all ages to pursue learning on their own terms. People around the world are taking their education out of school and into homes, libraries, Internet cafes and workplaces where they can decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn and how they want to learn.’ [3]

‘Home schooling has been booming in the US over the last 30 years. Based on a survey in 2003, the US Department of Education (National Center for Education Statistics 2006) estimated there were 1.1 million children being home-schooled and that the number had increased by 29% in four years. The survey also found that 21% of the families engaged in home schooling hired a tutor and 41% used distance learning.’[4]

Market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA) has released a study stating that the global private tutoring market is projected to surpass $152 billion by 2015. According to GIA, the burgeoning private tutoring market is being driven by the failure of standard education systems to cater to the unique needs of students, combined with growing parental desire to secure the best possible education for their children in a highly competitive global economy.[5]

Work place education is expanding rapidly and the value of the global training market is estimated at $164 billion and expanding [6] according to The Evolulllution website.

The University of Phoenix is the most successful online university in America. It has over 100,000 students altogether, including over 30,000 online students. As busy people realize they need more education, they increasingly opt to take distance education courses.[7]

The worldwide market for self-paced e learning reached $35.6 billion in 2011. The five-year compound annual growth rate is 7.6% and revenues will reach $51.5 billion by 2016. Five-year revenue forecasts are provided for 85 countries in this report.[8]

By 2016, expenditures on digital English language-learning products will account for 7.3% (or $2.5 billion) of the global English language-learning market.[9]

The numbers of people returning to education, forming self-interest communities and joining MOOCS is increasing fast.

In March 2013, one MOOC provider (a for-profit one) had 2.8 million registered learners – far more than the 1.8 million people that have taken a course at the Open University in its whole 39-year history.[10]

In recent years many companies are also choosing to certify micro-subjects within their own areas of expertise, such as Cisco and Microsoft.

‘In recent years, a host of companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco, as well as technical societies, have developed exams that certify that a person has a particular level of skill in some occupational niche, such as creating web pages or maintaining computer networks. Because the certifications are more specific than diplomas, they are more meaningful to potential employers.[11]

All of this adds up to a lot of learning and a significant trend towards lifelong, self-controlled learning.

As education’s role is being challenged by technology, it is not reacting very well, and there are many dangers in this lack of acceptance. But why is this and will it change?

Education has had plenty of time to see the Internet, and it’s effects on other industry sectors but it has intransigently refused to embrace the social changes that demand a change in pedagogy.

Why is there a conflict?

I speak as a former teacher with 10 years experience in schools and higher education.

I believe that the education establishment and many teachers have a firm belief that they own learning and are the only ones who can dispense it properly.

I would add there are a significant number of the more enlightened teachers but these people are swimming against the establishment tide and many are now leaving to join the fast growing band of private tutors see (footnote 4 above.)

In other words, the teacher dispensing learning is not challenged and there is, indeed, no room for challenge in the social set-up of education where debate is often confused with losing authority.

The emphasis is only on solo learning and testing but, in the workplace, one is applauded for using external resources and working well with colleagues.

The subject matter of courses is based on facts and theories and not on skills.

In today’s fast moving society, it can be argued that these facts and theories have a very short shelf -life and that teaching skills, not facts, would be a better pedagogical system.

This culture and system is at odds with learners now and no longer suits them; the modern learner is now used to something different.

They’re used to choosing what they learn, where, when and how they learn it.

They like to learn cooperatively and make up their own curriculum and, where assessment is used, it is either instant or offered to suite their progress.

The style is bite-sized pieces of learning that can be digested and explored easily.

So what about e learning, is it not the solution?

MOOCS, (Massive Open Online Courses), have been the disruptive technology that have caused people to think and have fuelled the debate about access and the cost of learning in Higher Education.

In fact, the completion rate for MOOCS is relatively low, and many see them as a marketing tool positioning the brands of US higher education in the online market.

75% so far are in English, but other languages are growing in popularity, particularly Spanish and French.

  • Spanish: Miriada X, a consortium of nearly 30 universities in Spain and Latin America, offers a large number of courses in diverse subjects in business management, education/teaching, science, and humanities.
  • French: Coursera offers a dozen or so French-based MOOCs, and France Universite Numerique (FUN), a major initiative from the French National Ministry using the open-source edX platform, recently started to put courses online from a number of French universities.
  • Mandarin Chinese: Coursera offers some Mandarin-based courses through partner universities, including Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and National Taiwan University. A new provider, XuetangX, using the open-source edX platform, has just started a handful of courses, with more to come.
  • German: Iversity, a European MOOC provider based in Germany, has about 10 German-language MOOCs, and will likely plan more.
  • Arabic: رواق ( recently started offering a limited number of MOOCs in Arabic. Additionally, a new initiative sponsored by the Queen Rania Foundation, Edraak, was just announced that would provide an Arabic MOOC portal using the open-source edX platform.

The trends are

  • Universities are starting to grant credit for MOOCs
  • Companies are beginning to use MOOCs for internal training and marketing
  • (a partnership between open EdX and Google to create a MOOC authorship platform), and the current offering from OpenLearning.

E learning is the solution, but there are many problems to resolve before it can be widely accepted within the school system.

Internet access in many countries is still not reliable or fast enough to stream video effectively, which is one of the richest media for e learning.

It also means that the interesting solution, streaming expert lessons into schools from remote locations is not totally reliable, either.

The technology in classrooms and schools is set up as a series of closed networks to keep information inside a controlled environment, which is at odds with the sharing and cooperation concepts of the Internet.

Enlightened teachers are struggling to put content online but the systems to do this easily are not in place and so they either waste time, or the quality of materials is substandard, giving e learning a bad name.

There is still a digital divide between have and have-nots. Those who have better technology progress better and have more opportunities. ‘There is substantial data that suggest that differences in use of computing technology occur along socioeconomic status, gender, and cultural lines [12]

But the essential point is one not of technology, but of pedagogy and culture.

Schools will have to alter the curriculum, the way they teach, train their teachers, change the way they assess as well as changing their technology.

Allowing students to use online materials, conduct their own research, produce their own materials, work in teams and work out of school will be necessary. The bizarre thing is that this is the way students are learning out of school anyway!

Despite these problems and challenges, online education is already happening, and where it does happen, the numbers are big.

  1. The worldwide market for self-paced eLearning reached $35.6 billion in 2011. The five-year compound annual growth rate is 7.6% and revenues will reach $51.5 billion by 2016. Five-year revenue forecasts are provided for 85 countries in this report. [13]
  2. Virtual universities are attracting large numbers of online students.
  3. ChinaEdu in China has over 311,000 students, the second-largest online student population on the planet after the University of Phoenix Online in the US.
  4. The Thailand Cyber University Project is a government-funded consortium of 43 education institutions, NGOs, government agencies, and companies. As of June 2012, it provides over 300 free online courses and reaches over 170,000 students.
  5. UNISA, based in South Africa, has over 160,000 online students across Sub-Sahara Africa, more than half of their total student population. Over 3,500 come from outside South Africa.
  6. China Cast Education is a publicly traded company in China and has over 145,000 online higher education students. (Additionally, they have 6,500 PreK-12 online students.)
  7. The State University of New York Learning Network and the Ohio Learning Network both have over 100,000 online students.
  8. The Open University of Japan is the largest online education provider in Japan with over 85,000 enrolled students.
  9. Open Universities Australia (OUA) has over 60,000 online students, more than double the enrollments from four years ago
  10. While 16.1 million higher education students took one or more classes online in US institutions in 2011, there were 1.5 million students taking all their classes online in US institutions. By 2016, this international student body of fulltime higher education students will rise to 4.1 million. It is likely that this number will be dwarfed by fulltime online enrollments in Chinese higher education institutions.[14]

So what will happen?

So the trend towards the adoption of online learning is proven, but when you look at it country by country you can see clear differences.

Generally the adoption rate is slower in Europe than any other area.

white paper - figure 1

white paper figure 2

There is a marked difference between countries and areas and the danger is that if Europe doesn’t accept the changes they are likely to fall behind in the global education race.

Furthermore the revenue generated by higher education which is, according to Government reports, to be £7.37 billion (latest figures), would fall dramatically as other countries drew students away from the old fashioned UK system. [15]

I can foresee a number of consequences.

  1. Online provision will only become much bigger but Europe will lag behind
  2. Online schools will be created, by independent groups of ex-teachers, under a Government education system but independent of curriculum guidance.
  3. Specialist niche markets for online provision in areas such as those excluded from schools, long term ill, those being taught at home, or those with special educational needs. (Already happening in the USA).
  4. There will be a move to new types of e learning model, including Knowledge Eco Systems, Personal Learning, Virtual and Enhanced Reality
  5. Teachers will contest IP rights and publish their own materials online
  6. Teachers will become subject matter experts and maybe, even individual contractors, many moving online and teaching in public as well as privately.
  7. The curriculum will gradually change to a skill-based pedagogy with a much wider range of subjects and assessments.
  8. Private provision online in software, teaching, content and consultancy will have more presence in everyday education provision, as in the health sector

UNESCO in their Muscat Agreement, point to the skill based pedagogy as one of their major objectives. Points four and five are shown below indicating that the my view of the importance of moving towards a skill based pedagogical system is supported by them

Target 4: By 2030, at least x% of youth and y% of adults have the knowledge and skills for decent work and life through technical and vocational, upper secondary and tertiary education and training, with particular attention to gender equality and the most marginalized.

 Target 5: By 2030, all learners acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to establish sustainable and peaceful societies, including through global citizenship education and education for sustainable development.[16]


  1. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27
  2. The Penn News,
  4. (Maeroff 2003)
  5. Ambient InSight
  7. The Second Educational Revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18..27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27
  8. [Attewell, 2001; Camp, 1997; Warschauer, 2003].



[2] Alison website –

[3] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18.27

  1. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27

[4] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18.27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27

[5] The Penn News,


[7] (Maeroff 2003)

[8] Ambient InSight

[9] Ambient InSight


[11] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18..27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27


[12] [Attewell, 2001; Camp, 1997; Warschauer, 2003].


[13] Ambient InSight

[14] Ambient InSight




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