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

In this issue:

1. Flexible Learning Trends
2. MOOCs
 

Flexible Learning Trends


The idea that launched a thousand strategic plans

This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education explores the idea of the “skills gap” and how it influences, and is influenced by, universities, employers, and industries. The skills gap refers to when employers have jobs available, however, they see a lack of suitable workers to fill the positions. “For colleges, the implication is that this gap is their fault, that they aren’t teaching the right things, and that they aren’t being responsive to businesses’ needs,” according to the article. The article looks at various ways to address the skills gap, including some teaching techniques adopted by post-secondary institutions, like the flipped classroom, where professors can incorporate real-world problems, and MOOCs, which can help graduates certify their technical knowledge. Some note in the article that many parties are responsible for addressing and closing the skills gap, including employers themselves, colleges, job seekers, and local communities. 

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Beyond teaching with instinct

Michael Feldstein, co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, advocates for the adoption of “learning science” in this article from Inside Higher Ed. Learning science is an interdisciplinary field that experiments with new instructional approaches and furthers the scientific understanding of learning. He argues that to meet current educational challenges, learning science should be brought to every classroom. This will require massive change, he states, from tenure and promotion, to the training of graduate students. While the transformation will not be easy, Feldstein believes there should be a commitment for teachers to work together to improve their knowledge of how teaching and learning work. “If you teach as part of your job,” he says, “then you must in some sense become a student of that discipline and a participant in that scientific endeavor.” 

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Struggling = learning

In this blog post, Karl Kapp, the assistant director at Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, looks at how struggling with learning material is essential to learning and growth. He discusses the term “disfluent” from Charles Duhigg’s book, “Smarter, Faster, Better.” Disfluency can be defined as a process where something is “harder to process at first but stickier once it [is] really understood.” Kapp points to an example from the book where a struggling elementary school district is given a plethora of data from dashboards, spreadsheets, and other electronic sources. Despite the data, the district does not really start understanding students’ needs until teachers are tasked with manipulating the data by hand. “Rather than simply receiving information, teachers were forced to engage with it,” Kapp says. The school district improved not because there was more data, but because teachers began understanding the data. According to Kapp, “The act of struggling and manipulating and engaging with content will make it more meaningful and more memorable.”

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Looking beyond the LMS: Why a single app won't workIn this article from Campus Technology, Malcolm Brown, executive director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) looks at the future of learning management systems. With an increasingly diverse student body and variety of course models, Brown argues that one single application will not be able to provide the necessary personalization and customization required. Brown and the ELI envision the future of digital learning environments as a component-based architecture in which individual applications, including an LMS, are “connected through open standards and able to exchange data.” Brown says that the LMS will still play an important role in the future—he sees digital learning environments using an LMS as the core user interface while augmented by side applications, or as a hub that other applications can hook into.

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The coming age of digital educationFE News, a British online magazine that looks at emerging education strategies, examines the increased demand for flexibility and convenience in higher education. Citing a 2016 study, the article states that short online courses are becoming more mainstream—15 percent of adults in the UK reported taking an online course or intending to take one in the future. The post-secondary education market is also evolving, with flexibility, convenience, and on-demand learning seen as increasingly important. According to the article, “As short online courses become commonplace, learning will become easier to fit alongside everyday life, thus opening opportunities to those who had previously struggled to overcome the barriers, and providing a tangible means by which learning can be scaled to reach everyone who needs it.”
 
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EDUCAUSE research snapshot: 2017 IT issuesThis infographic from EDUCAUSE looks at the Top 10 IT issues for the coming year. Some of the topics discussed are the digital transformation of learning, which “begins with helping [faculty] understand the ways students benefit from technology-enhanced teaching.” Another issue is data-informed decision making, which can “inform resource allocations to reduce or contain costs and improve institutional value, enhance classroom and learning experiences to improve student outcomes, and help students understand how to attain their degree more efficiently.” Other top issues described in the infographic include strategic leadership, sustainable funding, and data management and governance.

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MOOCs


HarvardX and MITx: Four years of open online courses

A joint research team from Harvard University and MIT has published a report looking at the evolution of the MOOC movement. Since the launch of HarvardX and MITx in 2012, over 200,000 certificates have been issued, and 2.4 million unique users have participated in one or more of the online courses. This report, which follows up on findings released by the team in 2014 and 2015, addresses questions such as the demographics of learners, time it takes to earn a certificate, and growth of MOOC participation. Among the findings, the report states that MOOC participants are heterogeneous in background, and the typical certificate earner spends 29 hours interacting with an online course. The team also found that overall participation in the courses has steadily grown over the last four years, but the number of people getting certificates has decreased since free certificates were largely discontinued in 2016.

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Brief interventions help online learners persist with coursework, Stanford research finds

A new study from Stanford University looks at MOOC learners in less-developed countries and how small psychological activities can help motivate their learning. According to René Kizilcec, the lead author of the study, “MOOCs have expanded access to education but this doesn’t guarantee equal opportunities for people around the world.” He notes that access to the courses isn’t enough—people also have to feel welcome in the learning environments. In the study, the team asked learners in two MOOCs to complete an online activity. Some learners were asked to read and summarize testimonials from former students, who described how they became more comfortable in the course after initially being worried about belonging. Other learners were asked to complete an affirmation activity, where they wrote about how taking the course reflects and serves their values. Results showed that the activities helped double the persistence of learners, and the affirmation activity raised completion rates from 17 percent to 41 percent.

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