Flexibytes: Flexible learning news, trends, and resources.
Welcome to the Flexibytes e-newsletter featuring flexible learning news, trends, and resources at UBC and beyond.

In this issue:

1. Blended Learning
2. Flexible Learning Trends
3. MOOCs

Blended Learning

Making sense of blended learningIn this extensive report, Sir John Daniel, research associate at Contact North and former president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, examines what blended learning is and how it might best be used. He describes the history of online and blended learning and looks at the growth of correspondence education, open education, and the rise of MOOCs. Daniel says that two important ways to make higher education more effective in the 21st century are that “students need to engage more fully with independent work. Online technology can help them do this and must be used intensively to free up time for students to prepare assignments and for teachers to use their interactions with students over their assignments as a prime vehicle for teaching. Second, teachers must help students, via apprenticeship-style sessions and commentary on their assignments, to develop skills and acquire academic knowledge.” He adds that the future of hybrid learning is an opportunity: “If implemented sensitively and professionally it will lead to higher student performance and greater staff satisfaction than trying to revamp an older model of higher education that was simply not designed for the masses of diverse students seeking higher learning in today's technology-rich age. We cannot promise a golden age of learning but the opportunities for empowering humankind are enormous.”

Flexible Learning Trends

Personalized learning: What it really is and why it really matters 

Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein, co-publishers of the e-Literate blog, offer a framework, based on three years of campus visits, for thinking about how personalized learning can help students. Rather than focusing on tools, Hill and Feldstein examine personalized learning as a practice. They observed three main technology-enabled strategies that have increased meaningful personal contact: moving content broadcast out of the class, turning homework time into contact time, and providing tutoring. Hill and Feldstein go on to outline six steps for a successful strategy. Among the steps include identifying the student need that is to be address and providing training and support so that “faculty have the technology training, equipment, and support staff that they need in order to be successful.”

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3 takeaways from the SXSWedu Conference 

The SXSWedu Conference, an offshoot of the South by Southwest music and film festival, brought together 10,000 participants from various areas of education. An overall theme of the conference was the concept of personalized and adaptive learning, which is currently receiving considerable attention in higher education.Three takeaways that emerged from the conference were:

  • Colleges need to better explain new data tracking: students and faculty should better understand the data that is being collected and the digital presence they are leaving.
  • Professors need to learn new teaching tricks for the digital age: educational videos need to feel authentic—even if a video has high production value, students can detect phoniness.
  • Students want change: of the student presenters at the conference, one interviewee suggests that she wanted to see more bold ideas and changes rather than “tweaks.”
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Towards a new pedagogy

This report, from, looks at the extent to which MOOCs are enabling innovation, engagement and equity in higher education. It highlights five ways that MOOCs are currently having an impact on teaching and learning. One of the ways that MOOCs are influencing higher education is by supporting and accelerating the development of blended learning. MOOCs can be seen as a way to “[open] up the pedagogy in the classroom,” and they are “helping instructors teaching in more traditional settings develop a new confidence in experimenting with new approaches to classroom teaching.” Another topic discussed is how MOOCs are demonstrating the power of learning communities and peer tutoring. For example, edX has enabled learners to manage and form study groups, which encourage them to develop and deepen their understanding of their learning. Coursera has also seen higher completion rates with participants that use Learning Hubs, which are physical spaces that have been established for learners to access their classes.

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Examining the use of Facebook and Twitter as an additional social space in a MOOC

A new study from the University of Texas at Austin examines whether, and to what extent, social media can enhance participants’ experience in a MOOC. Researchers looked at how MOOC participants used a Facebook group and Twitter feed associated with a MOOC course, and what they found to be the most useful aspect of the social media platforms. Findings indicated that the social space created by social media generally enhanced the learning experience. While one third of respondents did not find the platforms useful for their learning, other respondents found the tools “can augment the learning experience by providing an environment to share resources, connect with others, enhance communications, and post personal feelings or reflections of learning in an informal and quick manner.” 

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Engaged learning in MOOCs: A study using the UK Engagement Survey 

The Higher Education Academy in the UK has released a research report that explores MOOC learners’ engagement in learning. Learners from two MOOCs, designed and run by the University of Southampton, were asked about their experience and engagement in the MOOC. Research was done using a specially adapted version of the UK Engagement Survey, an undergraduate survey that focuses on student engagement. Findings showed that learners felt “engaged in intellectual endeavours such as forming new understandings, making connections with previous knowledge and experience, and exploring knowledge actively, creatively and critically.”  The report states that MOOCs have the potential to attract diverse groups of learners and connect inter-generational and international networks; however, in order to widen access, they argue that the reach of MOOCs needs to extend to underrepresented students, such as people from different ethnic backgrounds or lower socio-economic groups. 

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Persistence patterns in massive open online courses (MOOCs)

A new study published in The Journal of Higher Education examines factors that best predict student engagement, persistence, and completion in MOOCs. Researchers collected data from more than two million students registered in a range of MOOCs run out of Vanderbilt University. Several course features were found to be predictive of patterns of engagement and persistence. For example, students who completed a pre-course survey or who were motivated to enroll in the MOOC due to the course’s affiliation with a prestigious university were more likely to persist. They also found that introductory and overview lectures and the first lecture of the week experienced higher viewing rates—this suggests that potential course design changes, such as including vital information in the first video of the week, can help increase engagement, persistence, and completion in an online education setting. 

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Flexible Learning
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