Potential of the digitalisation of academic teaching remains largely untapped
German HEIs are still not making the most of the opportunities of online learning. This is the result of a study carried out by the CHE – Centre for Higher Education. “MOOCs” or Massive Open Online Courses, which are currently causing a stir in the US and worldwide, could kick-start a far-reaching changes on higher education. In order to be able to exploit the potential identified in the CHE study, HEIs must adopt online learning as a strategic task and law-makers must remove existing barriers.
The recent CHE working paper The digital (r)evolution? – Opportunities and risks of digitalisation in academic teaching shows the many benefits online learning offers for HEIs: By sharing standardised content for introductory courses universities can increase their teaching efficiency while at the same time allowing learners to custom-tailor individual educational paths according to their individual needs and abilities. Software that analyses learning processes can help to improve the quality and suitability of learning content and teaching style for each individual student.
Universities can profit from providing free digital learning resources as these are suitable tools for higher education marketing or student recruiting. In the field of further education, online learning creates participation opportunities for working students and thus new target groups for institutions. Open online courses (MOOCs) offer an opportunity to expand access to higher education further and on a global level, thereby making it more democratic.
The potential for “individualisation despite massification” is a key argument for the digitalisation of teaching in Germany for to CHE managing director Jörg Dräger, particularly given the current boom in student numbers and the looming debt ceiling in public budgets. “The use of digital technologies and a modular content structure would make it easier to deal appropriately with a growing and increasingly heterogeneous student body. Learning analytics could make it possible to monitor performance continuously and also to provide immediate feedback and intervention, even for large groups of students,” said Dräger, explaining the benefits of expanding online learning in German HEIs.
In the US, MOOCs are often associated with hopes to lower the costs of education for institutions as well as for students. Other countries see a potential to use MOOCs to provide access to higher education. In Germany both factors do not play a role, as there is a high number of accessible HEIs across the country which are almost free of charge. In addition, the organisational and legal framework of German higher education, e.g. the recognition of developing content for online learning within teaching loads and obligatory student intake, are barriers to any revolutionary developments and the broad integration of online learning at German HEIs. “Higher education institutions would be well advised to look into the digitalisation of teaching from a strategic perspective” said Dräger. “However, politicians must also adapt the legal framework to the new technological possibilities.”
A conference co-organised by the CHE and Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft on 27 November 2013 in Berlin has provided an opportunity to discuss the results of the study and examples from practice with experts. The working paper is only available in German displaying the potential of new technologies for serving the needs of learners worldwide as well as in the European and German context. It makes predications as well as recommendations for how German (and European) higher education can profit from the new possibilities of online learning. A small publication which can be downloaded on the right side provides an English short version with the main findings of that paper.