I love distance learning. Studying in my own time on my own terms without the restrictions of a brick-and-mortar university perfectly suits my needs. As a full-time employee, father and husband I would not be able to attend regular classes of tutorials having missed out on university after school. After completing my GCSEs I leapt head first into the world of work and the fantastic Open University has allowed me to catch up on all the education that I was in danger of missing out on.

The Open University vice chancellor Martin Bean recently proposed the idea that the internet has opened a “Pandora’s box” on education and I would agree with this statement. After spending many years studying not only with the Open University but also with other distance learning, internet-based insitutions I can say one thing: Lock me up in this box and throw away the key because I’m all in.

“Disruptive innovation is forcing so many of us to reconsider the very foundations of our learning and teachings,” continued Bean.

“There isn’t a higher education institution in the world that shouldn’t be thinking about the role of technology and innovation…. This is something that’s going to be a massive shift.”

pen & ink 2Even since I first started with the OU I’ve noticed big shifts. These range from simply posting in multiple copies of paper PT3 forms to innovative courses running solely on the internet. It seems like an age now but it was really only a few years ago that I first walked into an Open University building and lifted my hefty prospectus, took it home and perused the list of courses on offer. Now if I want to study for a subject I just log on to the Open University’s website (click here to access it) and browse the options without half a tree planted (not literally) on my desk.

All institutions are having to make the same changes. Is traditional learning dead? I don’t think so. It still has a big role to play -just like libraries which are an important part of the fabric of society- but distance learning and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are in the ascendency. I have mentioned many times about the innovative new websites like Coursera and the Khan Academy which are providing quality online educations for free or on cut-price deals. Every day I get bombarded with offers of digital courses on GroupOn or Yipit after taking courses with them in the past. I actually completed an accredited TEFL course through a company I found on GroupOn and I did ECDL through Learn Direct which was ahead of the curve in this respect. Many journals I sourced for a recent TMA were available online and I can study photography online with the likes of Lynda.com. It’s the future and it’s here to stay.

In his speech Martin Bean addresses these points of concern: “Understandably people cherish and nurture the traditions which are the bedrock of our organizations. Many are worried that what makes their institution unique will be diminished or eroded by the pace of change… Sceptics… They often see technology as a threat and incorporating it into teaching as dumbing down or diminishing the value to students.”

I doubt we will be sitting in front of huge monitors being taught by robots anytime soon but I find these digital alternatives exciting. As long as the enriching aspects of traditional learning are maintained and students do not find themselves isolated or left on the sidelines by technology I can only seeing the long-term impacts being positive. If the Pandora’s box is well and truly opened then let’s explore the possibilities!

For more on the Distance Learning revolution click here.

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