Strategies for embedding eLearning in traditional universities: drivers and barriers

MacKeogh, Kay and Fox, Seamus (2008) Strategies for embedding eLearning in traditional universities: drivers and barriers. [Conference Proceedings]


This paper addresses the question: how can elearning be embedded in traditional universities so that it contributes to the transformation of the university? The paper examines elearning strategies in higher education, locating the institutional context within the broader framework of national and international policy drivers which link elearning with the achievement of strategic goals such as widening access to lifelong learning, and upskilling for the knowledge and information society. The focus will be on traditional universities i.e. universities whose main form of teaching is on-campus and face-to-face, rather than on open and distance teaching universities, which face different strategic issues in implementing elearning.Reports on the adoption of elearning in traditional universities indicate extensive use of elearning to improve the quality of learning for on-campus students, but this has not yet translated into a significant increase in opportunities for lifelong learners in the workforce and those unable to attend on-campus. One vision of the future of universities is that ‘Virtualisation and remote working technologies will enable us to study at any university in the world, from home’. However, this paper will point out that realisation of this vision of ubiquitous and lifelong access to higher education requires that a fully articulated elearning strategy aims to have a ‘transformative’ rather than just a ‘sustaining’ effect on teaching functions carried out in traditional universities. In order words, rather than just facilitating universities to improve their teaching, elearning should transform how universities currently teach. However, to achieve this transformation, universities will have to introduce strategies and policies which implement flexible academic frameworks, innovative pedagogical approaches, new forms of assessments, cross-institutional accreditation and credit transfer agreements, institutional collaboration in development and delivery, and, most crucially, commitment to equivalence of access for students on and off-campus.The insights in this paper are drawn from an action research case study involving both qualitative and quantitative approaches, utilising interviews, surveys and focus groups with stakeholders, in addition to comparative research on international best practice. The paper will review the drivers and rationales at international, national and institutional level which are leading to the development of elearning strategies, before outlining the outcomes of a case study of elearning strategy development in a traditional Irish university. This study examined the drivers and barriers which increase or decrease motivation to engage in elearning, and provides some insights into the challenges of embedding elearning in higher education. While recognising the desirability of reaching out to new students and engaging in innovative pedagogical approaches, many academic staff continue to prefer traditional lectures, and are sceptical about the potential for student learning in online settings. Extrinsic factors in terms of lack of time and support serve to decrease motivation and there are also fears of loss of academic control to central administration.The paper concludes with some observations on how university elearning strategies must address staff concerns through capacity building, awareness raising and the establishment of effective support structures for embedding elearning.

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