Archive for the ‘Policy and strategy’ Category

A framework for e-learning policy

Friday, September 18th, 2009

This is my third blog post associated with my recent talk at the Italian e-learning society conference in Salerno. The previous posts reviewed e-learning policy to date and argued that despite the potential of technologies, the impact on practice has not been as extensive as might have been hoped. There is a gap between the rhetoric of policy and actual practice. Why is it that great policy initiatives still fail? I think there are three main reasons:

Common reasons for not engaging

  • “I haven’t got time”
  • “My research is more important”
  • “What’s in it for me?”
  • “Where is my reward?”
  • “I don’t have the skills to do this”
  • “I don’t believe in this, it won’t work”

Common resistance strategies

  • I’ll say yes (and do nothing)
  • Undermine the initiative
  • Undermine the person involved

Classic mistakes

  • Emphasis on the technologies, not the people and processes
  • Funding for technology developments

frameworkIn this post I want to put forward a framework designed to help bridge that gap and ensure that policy is more effective. To my mind policy needs to be considered in relation to three other inter-related aspects of e-learning: research and development, teacher practice and the learner experience. Only by taking account of these can we ensure that policy is effective. In order to maximise each of these we need to do the following:

Policy: Align with institutional and national initiatives and funding opportunities, ensure it is firmly embedded in relevant strategy, and align with broader technological trends.

Research and development: R&D enables us to explore what is possible with technologies, however it is important that we put in place effective formative evaluation strategies to observe changing user behaviour as they interact with the tools, as well as identification of drivers and challenges.

Teacher practice: We need to start from where teachers currently are, their motivations and fears, their skills levels. Upper most in our minds must be the question “What’s in it for them?” We need to observe and learn from actual practice, how the teachers are interacting with the tools, what is working and what isn’t.

The learner experience: Perhaps most importantly of all we need to identify what impact all of this is actually having on the learner experience, is there evidence of improvement? Because ultimately surely this is the overarching goal – pedagogically effective and innovative use of technologies to improve the learner experience.

All four aspects are inter-related: the research can inform future policy directives and help guide practice. The teacher and student voices can in term help shape policy and steer R&D activities. I concluded the talk by posing a series of questions and reflections:

  • What is the relationship between Government rhetoric and actual practice?
  • How can technologies support new forms of pedagogy?
  • What is the relationship between technologies, physical and virtual spaces and pedagogy?
  • How do we take account of a digital divide that is ever narrower but deeper?
  • What new digital literacy skills will learners and teachers need ?
  • E-learning innovation will require a radical rethinking of the curriculum,
  • E-learning challenges existing norms about assessment

Too often policy is developed in isolation from the other components of e-learning and as a consequence too often it fails. By articulating the explicit relationship to these other components there is a chance that policy can begin to have a greater impact. Link to the other blog posts, resources, references and the slides are available on cloudworks.


Policy/practice: an e-learning timeline

Friday, September 18th, 2009

This week I am participating in the Italian e-learning society conference in Salerno. Yesterday I gave a talk exploring the link between policy and practice. In particular I focused on two main questions:

  • Is there a gap between e-learning policy and actual practice?
    • How can we bridge the gap?
  • Does e-learning policy adequate reflect current technological advances
    • If not how can we ensure it does?

I am planning to write a series of blog posts expanding on the themes I discussed in the talk. The slides and associated references can be found in this cloud on cloudworks. In this post I concentrate on setting the scene for the talk in terms of reflecting on past e-learning policy perspectives and their associated impact on practice. I began the talk by seeing what lessons could be learnt by scrutinising the e-learning history line. I drew in particular on two chapters; one written with Sue White and Janice Smith looking at UK policy and practice in e-learning over the last forty years and a second much broader look at international policy perspectives.The introduction to the chapter with Su and Janice sets the scene:

In this chapter we outline the relationship policy directives and practice. HE has changed dramatically in the last thirty years through policy drivers such as widening participation, lifelong learning and increased quality assurance. The sector has expanded and diversified, leading to a context that shapes policy directives and has a direct impact on e-learning practice. We consider these structures and trace the growth in the use of learning technologies and associated research.

In the chapter we put forward an e-learning timeline tracing technological policy directives and associated funding initiatives and looked at the subsequent impact on practice. We divided the timeline into four phases (see below) and for each looked at predominant technologies, key reports and initiatives, and characteristics and impact on practice.






Impact on practice

Phase one- 1965-1979: Mainframe systems


Mainframes, batch processing, machine code



Provision of computers for research; central planning for regional consortia

Predominant pedagogical emphasis is instructional, behaviourist. Research is concerned with navigational issues.





Establishment of Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils  (CBURC)




Barnard report


All students to be taught programming; proposal to develop CAL system to teach programming




National Development Programme for Computer Assisted Learning (NDPCAL)

CAL in the disciplines: exploratory use, planned use, service use






Phase two – 1980-1989: Stand-alone systems


Desktop PCs



Shifting costs from centre to periphery; early service developments such as the Resource Discovery Network






Move from computing to IT; emphasis on teaching requirements; suggested national staff development programme

Increased activity in terms of multimedia functionality but still content driven and focused on the interactive tutorial paradigm




Computer Teaching Initiative (CTI)

139 subject-specific development projects


Graphical interfaces







CTI centres

Promoting software use

Phase three – 1990-2000: Networking technologies




Janet launched




The Web








Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP)

Collaborative software development projects

Beginning to see more emphasis on the wider contextual issues (skills, strategy, importance of embedding and integration.) Also a shift away from the emphasis on the individual to the concept of situated learning.






Establishment of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

Internet browsers

Beginnings of network use by non-technical disciplines



JISC ‘Guidelines for developing an  information strategy’

JISC electronic libraries (e-Lib) programme


Beginnings of digitisation/ preservation projects


Commercial Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) appear



Increased use of ICTs; open access to facilities for all students

A move to more holistic and joined-up thinking. Evidence of more linking of development to strategy and policy





ICT use ‘tool of the trade’ for HE lecturers; strategies for integrating ICTs in the curriculum


Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) begin to appear


Learning and Teaching strategies

JISC Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) programme

JISC MLE programme

Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILT) launched

ICTs in support of non-traditional/off-campus learners; staff development, accreditation

Phase four: 2000 – present: Politicisation and systematisation




Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) launched

Human Resource strategies

Repositories, services, portals, reusable learning objects

Pedagogy shifted away from individual learner to collaboration, communication and the notion of communities of practice


Mobile and

wireless technologies become more prevalent

Government  White paper on HE





DfES and HEFCE e-learning strategies

Closure of the UKeU

Launch of HE Academy




We concluded the chapter by discussing what we considered were the key factors emerging in terms of the relationship between policy and practice:

  • Short-term funding: providing opportunities to experiment with technologies but negating against any form of long-term sustainability and embedding.
  • The management of change and the catalytic nature of e-learning: technology initiatives can often act as triggers for wider change, but to be effective the change process needs to be appropriately managed.
  • Complexity and collaboration: E-learning initiatives are complex and multi-faceted.
  • Risk and unintended consequences: Technological change carries with it inherent risk and often unintended consequences.
  • Visibility and accessibility: How successful e-learning initiatives are depends on how visible they are to key stakeholders.

We concluded:

This chapter has demonstrated that there is a close relationship between policy and practice, which is in turn driven by broader educational and technological drivers. Numerous initiatives and funding programmes have focused on the development and use of learning technologies over the last two decades, resulting in significant changes within HE institutions; increased uptake and use of learning technologies, impact on policy and strategy within institutions, as well as impacting on organisational structures and roles (see chapter five). However, despite this, the increased use of technologies has raised many new questions and issues. One of the most fundamental is, given the interconnection of policy directions and subsequent impact on practice, what factors need to be taken into account to make appropriately informed policy decision making? This question surely is central if we are to see a better, more strategic and targeted use of technologies in the future.

The chapter on ipolicynternational policy perspectives was more of a broad-brush comparison of different national initiatives. It included a diagram articulating the relationship between the broader context within which e-learning policy and initiatives arise; a comparison of country-specific policies and practice and subsequent impact on practice. It was evident that there were a number of ways in which elearning development were impacting on practice, which can be categorised as follows:

  1. Local culture versus global hegemony: On the one hand the communicative dimensions of the Internet offer unprecedented opportunities for global reach and access, development of new forms of collaboration and virtual communities. However, many are increasingly concerned with the insidious domination of the Internet by Western norms and the emergence of English as the de facto language of communication.
  2. Urban versus rural developments: Case studies considered in the review demonstrated the differences in the application of elearning in rural and urban settings.
  3. Commercial imperatives versus Government directives: There is a tension between elearning developments which are driven by commercial imperatives and those which emerge from Government directives or more socially orientated drivers.
  4. Funding models: The scale of funding and the model of funding adopted have a direct impact on the nature of developments undertaken, and on their long-term sustainability.
  5. Complexity and change management: An inherent characteristic of ICT is the exponential pace of change and its consequential impact on education, the economy and society more broadly.
  6. Changing roles and organisational structures: One of the most evident indicators of the impact of technology is the way in which professional roles are changing.
  7. Research versus teaching: Successful implementation of elearning requires time and investment. In many cases to date elearning developments are undertaken by academics (or at least by mixed-teams which include academics). This clearly creates a tension; academics are expected to undertake both teaching and research, however in many institutions research output is significantly prized over teaching and learning.
  8. Risk and unintended consequences: Given the pace of change of technologies there is a raft of risks associated with elearning developments and resultant unintended consequences.
  9. Dissemination and impact: Another aspect which impacts on how successful an elearning initiative is, or is perceived to be, is the degree to which it is visible and accessible to relevant stakeholders.
  10. Evaluation and reflection: One of the key lessons which can be drawn from reviewing the relationship between policy, funding and practice is the importance of setting in place formative evaluation mechanisms alongside initiatives so that individuals and the sector as a whole can critically reflect on the initiatives’ impact and distil out recommendations for future directions.

The chapter concluded by putting forward a set of research questions to explore:

  • Are current intellectual property policies adequate to cover the implications of elearning?
  • How are Governance issues (and in particular issues to do with privacy and individual rights) being addressed?
  • How do elearning policies and developments integrate with other policies (such as those concerned with access and inclusion, widening participation, development of the economy)?
  • How are changing academic and student roles being addressed; what provision is being put in place to meet new and emerging literacy skills?
  • What new markets and models for higher education might be appropriate to capatilise on the potential of elearning and an increasingly competitive globalised environment?
  • Recurrent trends in elearning research include: the effectiveness of elearning, academic and student-related issues, the impact on organisational structures and processes, and a host of associated issues such as quality mechanisms, privacy rights and security issues. How will these trends develop in the future, what new factors are likely to emerge and how can both be taken account of in policy directives?
  • How can we ensure that policy makers are aware of and take account of the multitude of research activities in elearning and how can we ensure the future research developments are of benefit to and feed into policy directives?

And finally:

In reviewing policy and funding arrangements for this chapter, one thing is evident: that practice follows policy directives and the general trend of technological developments, rather than informing them. This suggests that research and development activities in this area are necessarily pragmatic rather than forward thinking. Furthermore the complexity of the area and the wealth of policy directives, initiatives and funding programme makes overall clear coherent thinking nigh on impossible.



On the cusp of change - university 2.0?

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

David Annand has written an intersting article ‘Re-organising Universities for the information age’, which I came across via Terry Anderson’s blog. In it he argues that universities are fundamentally “pre-industrial” in their organisation. He goes on to say:

Much like the Industrial Revolution before it, rapid technological change in the Information Age has to date created significant, fundamental change in virtually all sectors of society except education. This may not remain the case for long. A confluence of factors puts increasing pressure on university systems worldwide to change.            

Although adopting a different approach, and drawing on a different body of literature, the paper has many similarities to the one by Barnes and Tynan I’ve referred to before. I totally agree with David’s comment about the way in which most institutions are currently thinking about technologies:

Unfortunately, as Hilsberg (2004) noted, new technologies are considered within most universities only to the extent that they might incrementally improve the cohort-based, paced educational process in both traditional and online environments, without regard for how technology coupled with organizational reform might transform the educative process.           

And also his concluding remarks:

It is still unclear whether resistance to change within the academy constitutes anything other than rearguard action. Irresistible technological, economic, and social imperatives seem about to impose significant change on the conduct of higher education worldwide.           

As I think I’ve said before the pace of change seems to have picked up somewhat in the last couple of years. Are we on the verge of some radical changes to the nature of education, the types of organisations which support it and the roles of those involved (’learners’, ‘teachers’, ‘accreditors’). Would there be any obvious indicators that we were in the middle of such a paradigm shift or will things only become evident after the event?? 

Putting an official stamp on things

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Brian Kelly is having a ‘Groundhog day’ moment with the announcement that institutions can now have a presence on facebook.

It’s just like 1993 and 1994 all over again. Have we learnt from our experiences when we first set up our first organisational Web sites, or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes - and perhaps, as a indication of progress, discover new mistakes that we can make?

I agree! I distinctly remember what happened at my own institution. As my research area was crystallography I had a Vax mainframe account (anyone remember vms and runoff??). I set up a web site which not surprisingly was a mixture of stuff on my research and teaching. Chemistry by the way was one of the leading areas in terms of teaching innovations on the web – such as use of RasMol which enabled you to render real data in 3-D, on the web, real time – amazing!! I also had a short ‘about me’ section and that of course was my downfall…

The powers that be in the institution began to get wind of this ‘Internet’ thing; suddenly it began to appear on senior management’s agenda. One of the deans apparently was particularly concerned that ‘some academics even had pictures of their cats on their web sites!’ – guess who? ;-)

The solution – roll in marketing to set up a working group, to take control of the ‘out of control situation’, make sure the head of marketing has read the latest airport paperback book on ‘The Internet’ so that he is totally au fait with the whole thing and hey presto problem solved!!! And the rest is history – what followed was a period of stagnation and the creation of over centralized, bureaucratic, institutional web presences, with policies and procedures and dos and don’ts as long as your arm. Brian clearly has alarms bells ringing…

And this time, unlike the early 1990s, will it be the marketing people who are keen to establish a presence in this popular social networking service with the techies warning about the dangers of data lockin and lack of interoperability?

Horizon scanning

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

I seem to have been in quite a few events recently focusing on horizon scanning and in particular mapping societal and educational changes to trends in technological developments. I think this demonstrates that the educational sector as a whole is really reflecting on the ways in which technology might have a significant impact on ALL aspects of the business - to the extent that the very way we structure, organise and support learning might change.

I am a member of the JISC JOS committee and today I was at a couple of JISC meetings which included a session brainstorming what we as JISC committee members felt were the key factors impacting on Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) and how these in turn related to and might influence the work that JISC does on behalf of those sectors. I have mapped some of the key arguments from the debate into Compendium here - note if you click on the image that will enlarge it, click on the title to get a summary of the points raised in the workshop. The photos are curtesy of flickr - URLs to the original sources are included. What’s interesting is that alot of the buzz words remain the same - user perspectives and experience, changing political and other external agendas, ever present tensions (open vs. closed, competition vs. collaboration) etc. But there was I felt a sense that maybe maybe this time its different, this time its not “Technology Groundhog day” yet again… we will just have to wait and see…

A wish list for ICT policy

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

One of the key findings from our Learner Experience Project (LXP), which looked at how students were using technologies was that there was a glaring mismatch between the technological infrastructures institutions were providing and the personal tools students were actually using. The findings showed that students were using a variety of different tools, appropriately these for their own needs. Whilst most institutions were concentrating on provision of basic tools and an institutional VLE, students are connected into social networks and using a variety of freely available communication tools (Skype, Wordpress, MSN chat, the list is endless). If the freely available tool is better than the institutional support one, why should student use the latter? Or put another way, how likely is it that the students will use the institutional version? Which raises a bigger question, what tools should institutions be providing as standard and to what degree should they be taking account of (and allowing) students’ own personal tools? I think this is a huge and fundamental issue for institutions and I don’t think we have really woken up to the significance of this mismatch or the implications if we don’t attempt to address it. Worryingly I suspect most ICT-related policy documents don’t even touch upon this.

Mike Caulfield puts forward an approach, which offers some hope. Struggling with his own institutional policy, he started to think laterally and came up with a wish list for driving ICT policy, namely that ICT policy should be about:

  • using technology to help students and faculty to change the world,
  • developing graduate students who think creatively about technology and loose processes,
  • starting to bring institutions (and our learning) into the Networked Age.
  • It made me think ‘what would my wish list be?’ and ‘how could we use something like this to drive policy, what would it look like in practice?’