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Online Education 2.0: Where are we Headed? In conversation with Simon Tindall, Open University

In an exclusive interview with Simon Tindall, Open University

When there are 56 million online students taking up distance courses, it becomes critical to analyse and tackle the issues pertaining to online education. When the average age of students is 34, it becomes severely important for learners and online education providers to focus on enrolment, engagement and employability of these students. We interviewed Simon Tindall to capture his thought leadership on these forefronts and gather some interesting insights about Open University.

Simon Tindall is the Head of New Business, Open University Worldwide and an experienced e-learning professional.
(*This is an auto generated transcript)

A few key highlights from the interview:

I am Simon Tindall I work for the open university, I am currently the head of the new business at the OU and my background is predominantly with the hi-tech and equally within space and design.

So I have had various roles with companies like Sun Micro Systems for nearly twenty years and then moved into work for peoples like steelcase redesigning the classrooms and libraries to accommodate higher students.

Now adapting to have  students engage in this type of things and then for the last 4 years, I have moved from commercial to over academia and my role is really currently focused on how does the OU become more relevant to the commercial world.

How do we build an incremental revenue streams and in particular in the moment we are focusing on for one of the bell phase that arise and scanning, not necessarily on focusing where we are today but where does the OU want to be in  three to five years time.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current responsibilities and what are your major priorities?

Current Priorities are very much looking at future directions at the OU.  And I think three key areas that I focus on this moment ,on one is  beyond apprenticeship so apprenticeship is really becoming a part of our course standard business is very much we know that there is a skill gap. We know there is a skills shortage.

So how do we use a scale of OU and the online provision of the OU to actually really  try and do something .

You know paradigm shift which is actually skills provision. So we are very focused on what we are doing and on employability skills  and core skills and the end being to establish sort of default national or international platform of core skills which are free free to everyone.

This full fills part of the OU’s social remake. Educational provision for all but it is also just a track but you know there is a underline business model where we attract more people  to the university.

So that’s one key areas around skills tied into that is the focus on modularization of the content so increasingly people are looking to do smaller and smaller incremental parts of content and courses and necessarily doing large degrees over numbers of years but equally doing this movement towards doing smaller pieces almost on a consistent basis.

So you know that old model of going to university for years and then to in career for thirty, kind of goes out the window where we see that trend is increasingly that is learning as a service its continual learning as you go through your career and all numerous career differences.

So we are very interested in that area and how do we modulate, still keeping the level of the education  at degree level but equally look towards doing content in more incremental parts that add up. So one of the things we do  at university is we do a model whereby, you can study a number of quite different modules an it’s an open degree and they add up when they get all number of credits.And I think we will see a wider extension  of that model. Here you are studying different, potentially studying in different institutions or in different countries and gaining recognized credit which then add up or is given as a credit for prior learning in the universities and the whole model increasing.

And then the third area sort of entwined into that is this whole area where we are localizing.

We are a global provider we are a national provider  and then yet equally we know that people learn online… they equally want a mentoring… face to face mentor or something like that.

Are there any new initiatives you would like to share, which Open University has taken up?

So this is actually our fifth year anniversary of open university which we set up back in 1969.So we see it as a bit of a step year and I think one of the  key things that we are looking at is, how do we, one of the thing are very interesting is that how do we start making note and address such skills shortage rather than just doing another programme or something just in that model is that how do we actually look at little bigger  and so we are very interested working with industry partners we have a provision of courses that are coming out they are digitally badged and digitally certified.

Well you don’t just get the course for showing up. You actually really have to work throughout the course and take the test. But equally it allows any body on a global basis can undertake this courses. They all have a set structure  of 24 hours of online learning.

And there in areas like leadership and areas like networking and what we see is that employers are saying. These are the incremental skills or the core skills that they are really looking for either beyond degree or in some cases even replacement for or those are the more important skills they are looking for.

What are some of the biggest challenges Open University is facing to bring industry relevancy into classrooms?

So, I mean this is a new program for us that we are building at the courses, we will currently start having 8 courses and I think we have 5 of them and today we should have the others in next couple of months. The biggest challenge, that we already have 100,000 people start these courses, with more than something like 15,000 batches. But, increasingly what we are looking to do is, scale this and so this isn’t something that OU can just push this. This is about establishing a platform and then saying to employers, here is an answer, here is a resource. This is an attempt, you know this is not perfect, to build is not perfect. This is an attempt to then say, help us build increments to this.

If you see this course on networking for e.g. address the 90% of what you what and tell us what the other 10% is and we may put an additional element to it. It’s also about employers encouraging their employees and but I think it even goes beyond this. It’s about employers saying how do we use this to go out to other audiences as well and how do we teach the supply chain and how do we potentially go out to our customers and I think an employer in the traditional sense or you look at you know google or amazon. And say well, you have the reach into these markets and this is an asset or this is something that has been built its free and it’s always going to be free to learner but they need to be made aware of it. The challenge is not just putting putting the course the challenge is then spreading the word and getting a, you know a buzz on it.

I really like the, I am obviously not gonna promote my own product idea but I really like the idea of badging because I think it is the great way you can achieve something and showcase that and showcase  in a more engaging way so you put on your linkedin profile your social media, tweet about it. So, I like the badging concept and I think and badging not just from the Open University, but badging generally is a really nice way of tracking the micro credentials. Equally I really like the way, one of the other things I like is the old teaching methods starting to come back into online provision so if you look at a concepts like storytelling which you know go back to early teaching or early saying around, the fire if you like. The concept of how do you build a story and how do you build rather than just present content and how do you build scenarios where you know people become engaged and excited and you almost dramatize the content such that you know that weeks course ends is almost like the soap opera. Moment of encouraging people, and here is the exiting answer to the question. I am not an academic. But what always amazes me is how much thought goes into building the content and how this way of encouraging people and keeping them within all being excited and enhanced by education and by learning.

Can you comment on Open University’s drop off rate? What steps has Open University taken to keep the students engaged?

So it’s about analytics and, most of our degree student, I think it about 70-80% of them. Today we are tracking their full moment within the learning environment and building onto that social and economic data that we know about them that they have given us. And really what we are trying to do is run that through predictive model such that we are able to start predicting when is the student is struggling  or you will see very early sign to that prediction and so you can actually intervene so your tutor can connect with that student either online or in person. And can  that at the moment you are heading down this learning path which may not get to your learning objectives this is the change of behaviour. The extension of that model is that you then stop self explaining in order to rather than saying its about retention  Start saying, ok we recognize that you are studying X but you gonna end up 2.1. But if you want to get to a 1st on this module these are the additional pieces of work you should focus on. Because this is the analytics is showing, this is where your weak at. So all those stuff and things.

So I think really a exciting area to ultimate that and machine learning and that stuff varies. But equally the open university, is the nature of our market is we are very much looking for. 70-80% of people come into the university are coming and mid career.

So, the average age of our students  is 26-27 and equally that means that their previous education experience may not have been particularly good. So, our aim is having you encourage people into education, way that you are capturing all that imagination, all that entrigue if you like could be through a youtube clip or through a BBC program that we can produce and that if the shift is having you move from informal learning to more formal structure.

What are some of the key trends you are seeing in online education which you think are moving the market?

So, I think one of the key trends that we are seeing generally is around modularization. Its how do people, people want to learn in very different ways, people want to learn in probably a smaller increments. And on a more ongoing into life time commitment.

So, the easiest way of  looking at is, if you did an IT degree in any university,possibly by the time you have graduated after 3-4 years some of what you already learned has already been is out of date.

So, the challenge is, you know, 10 years down the line how valid is the content of that degree. And so, you know, I think what’s is interesting is that how the universities increasingly works with in case of IT. With IT providers to continually, not only make the original teaching more industry relevant but also to continue to keep student upto date. So it’s almost like you renewing your yearly subscription of learning if you like or teaching. We are not there yet. But I think some of these, particularly fast moving subject areas, is a set of ongoing wave you teach the basic, you know the block in the beginning and then you drip feeding content and learning content throughout. So, even, I am not sure, I think rather than doing that on degree level, where it is probably easier to do, is initially for short courses.

So, if you teaching a subject like cyber security,for example, you know that each year industry is changing and so how do you continue to offer you know topup of content to keep the learner knowledge as up to date as possible. So, its that, sort of move towards, as much as by modularization, but I think its a move towards  learning as a service. Which I think will come in next 5-10 years.

What are some challenges faced by online course providers to enhance enrolment and engagement?

I think the particularly in UK model, I think if student may be 20 or 30 year ago so university is a set, a package if you like and a set thing where you end up with degree in the end and then you go offer and get a job.  That’s much harder with fees and those kind of things and that now it’s much harder to justify that so I think that linkage between the here is an amount of study and education and here is defined career path or indication of career path is gonna be far more important so how do you make, you know the students gonna invest lot of money on studying and lot of time so they want to see some sort of defined reward out of it .

So it’s just not saying do this do this degree and you get a job in this market but it’s about how do you start linking employment opportunities while studying that how does it start feeding in and equally at the same time stage is that how do you make the content more relevant to employer this isn’t just hiring someone with a degree but I am hiring someone who is already has a basic qualification of a degree but they have also got skilled education. I also feel fairly comfortable that they will be quite effective within my organization early on. So if you look at areas like apprenticeship and degree of apprenticeship it’s really interesting because not only its a student studying  but the same time they are studying they already gaining employment experiences well so it’s a neeter so it rather than being degree & work it’s actually quite mixing of two.

How can students know which courses are credible while choosing a course online?

These are gonna come from a credible source so its gotta be you know we want for example we want, I am sure there are other universities, we won’t just put your name into any course it has be something  that fits the pedagogical approach that we take that we have defined in learning outcomes in those kind things . I think that the other key piece is that those badgical courses In order for them to currently have value  you can’t just get them easily you have to show that you work towards it you have to actually pass the online test it could be that you actually you know a future model may be that you have to actually do a physical assessment  as well.

If you are doing, those that type of structure then but the people undertaking of the course of people judging it  for future employment know that somebody has already has worked towards goal and set as a value to that badge.

But i agree that it has to come from recognized  source and it has to be not only you know say coming from the OU  but it has to be endorsed by 50 employers who recognised that it has been quality course is supposed to be another badge which you know has no one heard of .

What do you think could be Connect2Teach’s greatest impact on online education?

I think that the value the organization like connect2teach is very much. It is building  linkage not only in a formal way but in an informal way as well. How do you get much greater exchange  of information much greater exchange of ideas. In that way we started getting courses that are more relevant  to employment opportunities but we equally see that employers understanding the value of the challenges around the academia as well so any or all organization out there can bridge the gap, are going to have benefit.

How do you envision online education in 2030?

You know that I think that there is gonna be this view that people in twelve years of time there is gonna be a view that people see education as a  lifelong process we have always talked about life on learning but i think the reality is just because people’s career continue to change and evolve  they will continue to have to go back in the education and so the value is that there is huge amount of information, how do you curate the right content and right learning  to that particular person’s need to that particular time so there is lot of work to do there. But in terms of will there still be online learning yes of course because people  still gonna move they are still gonna be independent they can have less time to physically take attendance in institution so they want to learn in their most convenient way and online will be that key element.

Will people learn totally online? no because the despite technology and I am sure there is gonna be huge advances in next 10 years. Will people still see immense value and gain value from face to face engagement as well. But I think the whole blended learning piece will become more sophisticated by 2030.

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