UK Distance Learning has been in the home study business for a long time now, and we have already seen many big changes in the way that distance learning is delivered. In this article we’ll look at a few of the changes that have already taken place, ones that are going on right now, and speculate about what might be coming down the line. If you have an interest in education, either as a student or a teacher, then hopefully this piece will get you thinking about how we all might have to change our practices in years to come.
The end of paper?
Not so long back (perhaps as little as three years ago) the majority of the courses UK Distance Learning sold were paper-based. Indeed, we used to market the quality of our written materials as something of a USP. Students were consistently feeding back to us that they appreciated having their course materials in an ‘analogue’ format. Since then, however, we have seen a massive shift towards our online course platform. About 80% of our new enrolments are now choosing to study online rather than on paper. Whether this is due to improvements in broadband speed, a shift in the demographics of people signing up for courses, or some other factor, we simply don’t know. What is clear, though, is that there is no longer an assumption on the part of students that having a physical course-folder is a necessary part of their learning experience.
The value of additional resources
Perhaps one of the reasons that students now prefer online course content is because it dovetails more easily with the increasing amount of free additional content available on the internet. Of course, for some of our courses we embed video presentations into our platform, or provide links to external sources. However, students (particularly younger ones) are now also much more likely to go off on their own to find additional resources. Recorded lectures like TED Talks are particularly popular, and can be really helpful in making students feel more engaged with their learning than if they were simply reading things off a page. The only downside can be when students ‘go rogue’, and start using resources that either go beyond the remit of the syllabus, or are unreliable. Wikipedia, for instance, can be a great resource, but is also famously unreliable due to the ability of users to edit content.
Increase in regulation
When UK Distance Learning & Publishing first started out, the distance education business was a fairly sparsely populated market. There were a few well established players, such as the Open University, but very few others. Since then, however, there have been an increasing number of companies springing up. Most of them are great companies, who bring different skill sets and course-types to the industry. However, a small but significant number have popped up in order to take advantage of what has been an under-regulated environment. These companies use the ‘distance’ of distance learning to hide from their students. Taking their money and then providing a sub-standard or non-existent course experience. Recently, though, we have been hearing encouraging noises about stricter regulations coming down the line. We don’t yet know what form they would take, but we would hope they might involve a monitoring process for new websites offering distance learning courses, checking that the qualifications on offer match the descriptions, and that the company is listed with the relevant organisations, such as Companies House.