The Shifting Paradigm in Higher Education: Role of New Learning Systems

The 21st century is the age of information technology. The technological age provides several avenues for acquiring education through a number of channels. As the vast web of global and local information networks grow, several new skills and forms of literacy will become available to anyone who wants to reap the full educational benefits of the information age. The new technologies have brought about a pedagogical shift in higher education and opened new opportunities and frontiers for countless number of people who otherwise would have no access to education. 

The impact of the new technologies has given birth to a plethora of new terms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online courses), xMOOCs (eXtended Massive Open Online courses), cMOOCs (Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses), and others. MOOCs and their cousins are only one part of a wave of innovation in higher education, affecting both pedagogy and mode of delivery. New learning systems such as distance education, hybrid or blended learning, flipped classroom, mobile learning, and e-learning are already in place. 

Verdium & Clark define distance education as the delivery of education to students who are physically separated from the instructor. It is education in which teacher and learner are separate during a majority of instruction. Over the past years, an increasing number of academic institutions have implemented the interactive capabilities of distance education to enhance classroom teaching. This has been implemented through correspondence courses; television courses; audio and video-conferencing; computer conferencing; and  web-based computer technologies.

Blended learning refers to educational approaches that use both traditional classroom settings and online resources. It is the convergence of two learning environments, the traditional face-to-face learning environment that has been around for centuries, and electronic learning that have begun to grow with the advent of the information revolution. These two learning environments have remained separate in the past.

The flipped classroom model is where students are exposed to class content before coming to class, through online lectures. This exercise replaces what used to be time spent doing homework. This is a type of blended learning and is sometimes referred to as the backwards classroom or inverted classroom.

The mobile computing revolution has also altered teaching and learning in higher education. Mobile learning, or m-learning has emerged as a personal, unobtrusive, spontaneous, “anytime, anywhere” way to learn and to access educational tools and material that enlarges access to education for all. It offers learners’ flexibility in how, when and where they learn. Ownership of smart phones and tablets have increased over the years and such ubiquity has enabled institutions to integrate mobile technology into their courses. The use of apps, such as Voice Thread for audio annotations or Diigo for collaborative tagging have increased the use of mobile computing in teaching and learning. 

E-learning is used as a supplement to face-to face instruction, in a mixed mode with face-to-face instruction, or used on its own. Over the past couple of years, it has emerged as a supplement to the traditional educational system based on brick and mortar. In some places, it has replaced the century’s old model of teaching and learning, which focuses on an instructor standing in front of a classroom lecturing to students. This model no longer fits the way people want to learn today, because of the changing technological world in which we live. With rapid advances in technology and Internet tools, the traditional model is fading away to accommodate today’s learners.

The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement has emerged to provide freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching and learning. The term was first coined at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Courseware to designate “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. It is said to be the leading trend in distance and open learning domain as a consequence of the openness movement.

Several new online learning platforms have emerged to provide the global learning community with access to educational materials at very minimal costs. One such platforms is Coursera, a for-profit platform for online courses developed by Stanford University’s Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The courses on Coursera are often adapted from existing university courses by professors and Coursera staff. They’ve pioneered the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). 

edX is another platform for online learning that provides MOOCs. Founded as a non-profit with open-source software in 2012 by MIT and Harvard University, it hosts a number of free online university courses and analyses data on its use to contribute to broad research efforts in mechanisms of learning and MOOC optimisation.

Udacity is a for-profit organisation developed by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsy that offers MOOCs. Originally focusing on technology and science courses that were presented in a traditional university-type structure, it focus has shifted to courses intended for professionals.

Class Central is a free online course MOOC aggregator from various prestigious  universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, offered via Coursera, Udacity, edX, NovoED, & others, in multiple subjects that are open to students around the world. Class Central does not offer any courses of its own, but it serves as an aggregator of the best, highest quality courses offered online.

FutureLearn is a platform developed by the UK’s Open University in 2012 that delivers MOOCs. It partners with British universities and aims to engage a British audience with a British-oriented version of a MOOC platform. 

Canvas, developed by an education technology company, Infrastructure, provides a platform for teachers and students to connect and build and use educational resources.

With the paradigm shift in education, the future of teaching and learning is happening faster than we can imagine. Let us embrace the changing role of higher education in the 21st century and use it to undertake a radical transformation of our educational system. 

ICT World With Nana Prof. Osei K. Darkwa

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