Last updated: 12.06.12

Traditional universities 'will change' through distance learning online

Open-access online learning courses could help to add variety to the manner in which education is provided to students.

This is according to Dickinson College president William Durden, who pointed out in an article for Inside Higher Ed that the learning process is "never finished".

E-learning tools can enable people to participate in academia at any time of the day, at every location from all over the world, he argued, describing this as "everywhere, anywhere, anytime".

While learning can take place in the school or through traditional settings, it also occurs through an individual's own pursuits and their personal initiatives, at home, while working and at places of worship, the specialist declared.

Furthermore, degrees attained a few decades ago could be "obsolete" in terms of up-to-date knowledge, Mr Durden continued, noting certain skills, such as those relating to leadership in residential settings, critical thinking or historical knowledge, can retain their relevance.

Therefore, there is "an imperative to amass knowledge through a lifetime and demonstrate acquisition", the expert remarked.

If leading universities can manage to enable students to attain a level of education comparable to that seen by people who live on-campus, such as through online learning, this could transform the educational sector, he added.

Furthermore, if people can assemble their academic pursuits from a number of life experiences and institutions when acquiring a degree, "the monopoly of institutions over source and cost loosens and the student gains control of how knowledge is to be gained and at what price", Mr Durden stated.

A number of prestigious organisations, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, are utilising new e-learning technologies and are "experimenting with both delivery formats and cost", positioning themselves as "part of the change", he noted.

The courses Harvard University provides for distance learning online are taught by the organisation's affiliates and faculty, with popular subjects including English, government, computer science and management.