Last updated: 18.05.12

Welsh education minister calls for online learning to play greater role in university

A leading Welsh politician has called for e-learning to have a bigger influence in the higher education sector of the country.In a speech to the Institute of Welsh Politics, education minister Leighton Andrews said he was impressed when touring the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Ibers) at Aberystwyth University, because the facility is making use of modern innovations to support education.Ibers involves around 300 members of staff in teaching, support and research, who are examining many scientific issues, including bio-energy, the impact of climate change and the functions of genes.Some of the clever uses of technology remarked on by the politician include the recording of lectures and the utilisation of flexible academic spaces.However, Mr Andres said he was disappointed that only the Open University and the University of Glamorgan "appeared to be taking online learning seriously".For example, he noted the higher learning centre in Glamorgan has used a virtual learning environment to raise awareness of the institution, as well as its students and academics.Students at the facility could also enjoy a greater degree of flexibility in their education and communicate through the platform with a global audience.This resulted in an "immense marketing pay-off", he stated.The Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol is examining the potential of e-learning and is considering how it can create content for learners to access over the internet, the minister added.Mr Andrews stated the emerging digital world can enable pupils to access the best materials and top-rate teachers.For example, he claimed when his step-son was studying at Bristol University, he would contact Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, through email.The minister referred to the book The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring, claiming the argument in the publication is "in essence, that digital learning is the kind of disruptive innovation that is likely to be truly transformative in its impact".