TelSpain Conference
Trends in e-learning

Madrid, Friday 29 November 2013
EOI, Avda. Gregorio del Amo, 6, Madrid




Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have burst on to certain sectors in our society. It is hoped that they will help improve education worldwide by facilitating access to knowledge. Some see them as a learning solution in times of economic crisis.

MOOCs are an additional online education option. The most high-profile ones have a very simple aim: to provide access to content, suggest activities and enable interaction between participants, often assuming a very traditional paradigm, far removed from the one initially promoted by the creators of collectivism. One of their problems is the high drop-out rate, in excess of 80%. There are those who say that many people "just want to learn" and that when they've learnt what they wanted to, they leave. It's possible. Could it be that they suit certain student profiles better than others? And given that they're constantly evolving, what are MOOCs like now? How can we ensure that students learn, rather than just taking their word for it?

Christensen coined the term disruptive referring to changes in education, but has said that creating learning opportunities is very different to providing teachers' lessons recorded on video. So, what do we mean by disruptive? This term was created and has been used in economic contexts: disruption upsets the market because it can offer the same service for much less. MOOCs are free. But at what cost? Are they the same at a low cost? How much does it cost to create and update a MOOC?

There are those who believe that online education costs nothing. However, it has to maintain costs linked to its quality requirements: the creation of learning resources, accompaniment and teaching guide, continuous assessment process and the technological infrastructure that sustains it and ensures that the system continues to function. Which business models can sustain the MOOC phenomenon over time? Or, like other disruptive economic solutions, will they have a brief life? Will society allow this when it affects the quality of its citizens' education?

The focus of North American companies has instilled serious doubts as to the ultimate aim behind their actions. Are they trying to shift the role of the university towards business corporations? This would mean establishing an education system that yields to the interests of a few: low-cost education for the majority and high-quality for a few who, as always, continue to attend elitist universities that will have eliminated a good part of their competition and will also have instilled doubts as to the potential of online education. How can we defend ourselves against this? What role could MOOCs play in the future being described to us?


Technological platforms

Towards a new paradigm for learning platforms

An institution adopting a specific technological platform for e-learning has always depended on existing possibilities. As a result, before 1995 there was no other option but to develop bespoke ones as no other possibilities existed, with all the advantages and inconveniences associated with this situation. These would become the first-generation Learning Management Systems (LMS). The first commercial LMS appeared between 1995 and 2000; consequently, and in what would become second-generation LMS, the commercial ones took up a position alongside the previous LMS. After 2000, third-generation LMS made it possible to choose between commercial LMS and ones developed in open-source software, a scenario that made bespoke LMS practically unnecessary. Fourth-generation LMS appeared after 2005 designed to resolve problems associated with the monolithic structure so common to existing commercial and non-commercial LMS, making it difficult to incorporate new tools into them, existing ones and ones that may appear in the future. All of which without forgetting that, given the vast range of possibilities currently available, it should be the learning model that conditions the platform, with its functions or services, and not the other way round.

Web 2.0 tools and digitized content have essentially revolutionized the field of e-learning. It should be possible to use net services and resources as learning tools, and the truth is that most platforms, be they commercial or ones supported by open-source software, are used to responding to a monolithic focus, which, although they may contain a wide range of tools, do not allow for huge changes or require considerable effort. To do this, a new learning platform paradigm is needed, one that is strongly focused on standards and on a fully service-oriented model that facilitates the integration of more common learning platforms and platforms which provide the services and resources available on the net. It's not just a question of replacing current learning platforms, but extending them with a new dimension that will enable them to easily connect any external tool or content. By doing this, it should be possible to create a library of almost unlimited net resources. Wikis, blogs, microblogs, Facebook, digital libraries, all kinds of digital content and all kinds of other services that might be used as a learning tool, if recommended by the corresponding education model.


In-house e-learning

Most large companies have been using mass online learning as a resource for the development of people and teams for over a decade now. We have progressed from the initial virtual classrooms to the current shared-knowledge environments, with the subsequent evolution not only of platforms, but also of roles and methodologies.

We have moved from the initial teaching aims to the current focus on collaborative work and, therefore, business. In this context, training departments become less important compared with organization departments and e-learning platforms compete with intranets. Many organizations have multiple virtual environments, each of which is linked to a different point on the organisation chart, with the subsequent dispersion and managerial confrontations.

There is clear organizational tension when it comes to defining who is to run these environments. Many departments are interested in having a virtual environment for their aims (organization, innovation, education), not to mention the country sphere in the case of multinationals, but as well as this, it is questionable whether these spaces should be highly regulated by the management or open to fostering by any member of the organization.

All of which leads to significant in-house digital activity. Multiple platforms, roles and aims co-existing, with the accumulated result providing new data with more information than ever about each employee and team that will undoubtedly make us change how we assess and manage.

Integrating platforms, restructuring governance, focusing methodologies on business development, defining roles and functions, consolidating data and redesigning control panels, etc., e-learning has come of age and business-oriented organizations are taking up the challenge of consolidating it.