Call to 'grasp' online learning opportunities

June 11, 2004

Inadequate planning and a reluctance to break with tradition are hindering universities from exploiting the potential of e-learning, a senior academic has warned.

Mary Malcolm, professor of lifelong learning at the Dundee Business School, used her inaugural lecture last week to urge institutions to "grasp opportunities offered by technological innovation" despite inevitable concerns about the cost.

Professor Malcolm said that technology was revealing the "uneconomic basis of traditional teaching" and urged universities to collaborate in the production of teaching materials.

She said that the costs of producing original teaching resources has risen at the same time as online distribution costs have fallen "to such an extent that repeated development of more or less the same material is more profligate of resource than ever before".

Professor Malcolm's comments came as the Open University revealed that it had produced 2,000 e-books for 185 courses since piloting the use of electronic course materials two years ago.

Students are now given access to e-books through a course website as well as receiving printed course material through the post.

Dean Taylor, the OU's director of technology development, said that the e-books emerged originally as a byproduct of academics preparing material for printing.

He added: "Doing e-learning properly is not a cheap option. High-quality e-learning experiences that move beyond posting text and pictures on a website need to be authored, designed and supported carefully to ensure that the student can understand and engage interactively with the materials.

"E-learning needs to be driven by pedagogy and best practice rather than by cost considerations. The savings are likely to come from operating at volume, working collaboratively, and in the reuse and re-versioning of materials."

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