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Online learning works for working Australians

Posted March 29, 2011 in category General by Shirley Leitch

I've been a strong advocate of online and blended learning since the mid-90s.  In my next few posts, I'd like to share the thinking behind Swinburne's new joint venture with SEEK Limited, Swinburne Online.

Swinburne Online has been made possible by changes to Government policy as a result of the 2008 Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education. From 2012, Swinburne will be funded on the basis of student demand rather than by pre-set quotas.

We are still a very small institution and we struggle to achieve critical mass in many areas. If we are to continue to develop as a world-class university of technology, then we need to take advantage of the opportunity for funded growth provided to us by uncapped student places. It is for this reason that Swinburne in 2015 sets out ambitious growth targets for both face-to-face and online student growth. Swinburne Online will be a major vehicle for achieving that growth.

But increased government funding is only one part of the picture. It coincides with social, demographic and technology trends that have led to a growing demand from mature aged students to study online.

Online learning is not the same as 'distance' learning. It's more about flexibility than it is about geography. You may live next door to a university but still find it near impossible to participate effectively in higher education. If you are already juggling demanding work hours with family commitments then a 10am on-campus tutorial just doesn't fit into your standard workday.

There are lots of drivers to pursue higher education in an online environment. Graduates have better employment prospects, with better salaries and lower unemployment overall. Demographic trends also indicate 'white collar' professions are growing as we continue our long-term transition into a knowledge-based economy. Those who seek entry into these professions are increasingly likely to be 'digital natives' who have grown up with technology and are comfortable working, playing and socialising online. Online learning works for digital natives.

Swinburne Online will deliver world-class, high-quality online tertiary courses, specifically designed to meet the needs of working Australians. Online learning will not replace the on-campus experience any time soon but it will augment it and open up the university to a whole range of learners we currently fail to serve.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this venture.

Professor Shirley Leitch
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)

Related reading:
Media release: SEEK and Swinburne join forces

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|Comments [9]


Thank you Shirley for what could be an interesting discussion of both learning styles and delivery modes.

I know that the opportunity with SEEK is really exciting for all of us and our uni; and indeed Higher Ed in particular.

As a teenager from a very low socioeconomic background I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to study fulltime at a university after I finished high school, despite that I was accepted by a number of them; I did however subsequently enter higher education through the TAFE sector in Queensland and then on to higher tertiary studies, in both distance and part-time on-campus modes (the fact that I got through partial-differential calculus is entirely due to an amazingly supportive brother-in-law!), mostly however, I studied for 10 years two nights a week and it was a long and hard and very unforgiving slog while bringing up my kids, and working full time 60 hours a week to pay a mortgage.

Personally however, Distance Ed was really fab because I could choose to be educated when it suited me (like 3am in morning with a tub of ice-cream, infinite cups of coffee and a couple of textbooks!); online however now takes its place (yet without the postage costs!).

People that get to know me, know that I have some fairly soilid views around time based and time bound educational servitude and indeed learning styles; and I know that is because of my personal experience.

Online learning is far more than just dumping a couple of textbooks online, it is an andragogical approach that is both as exciting as it is new to our uni, and it needs to be developed in a way that works with all learning styles.

It is a new time for us and a time for us to own this space.


Posted by Brad Hosking on April 01, 2011 at 10:02 AM EST #

The Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing has been delivering an online course for over ten years. Although we have updated the online content and how that is managed and displayed our teaching delivery methodology and assessments have not changed a great deal during that period.

Online teaching opens up education to professionals who might otherwise not have the opportunity to participate. The Swinburne Astronomy Online community is a wonderful one, that spans many continents.

Teaching into the course however is not very efficient. A dedicated teacher has to spend a great
deal of time writing "postings" to explain phenomena that if the student were in their office or a tute could
be done much more easily and there is a disconnect between some students and the teaching staff.

Student/Staff interactions are hampered by Blackboard, timezones and the tools available to us.

I can't help but feel that web 2.0 technologies and
social networking applications like facebook/gmail/skype are way ahead of us. And yet we are in a University of Technology with a large IT faculty, an excellent social research centre (ISR) and on the whole, excellent IT services.

Perhaps we should be pioneering web 2.0 delivery
systems or partnering with companies like Facebook
to help us achieve better educational aims?

Cheers - Matthew Bailes

Posted by Matthew Bailes on April 01, 2011 at 10:02 AM EST #

I thought OUA was doing those things. Might we be competing with ourselves?

Posted by Susan Roberts on April 01, 2011 at 10:02 AM EST #

Online delivery is an increasingly important avenue that a university should develop and occupy, in particular, a small university like Swinburne. It is unlimited and is regardless the university size, which provides significant space for the University to expand.

The combination of government policy, the flexibilities, the outreach and the resource saving makes online learning very attarctive. I am glad that Swinburne foresees and seizes this opportunity which will be an integrated part of future higher education model.

Posted by Feng Wang on April 01, 2011 at 10:56 AM EST #

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for your comment and the feedback you emailed me about the blog's functionality.

You've raised some excellent points. I completely agree that online courses must be developed specifically for the online environment, not just replicate what we do face-to-face. It is a distinctly different method of teaching and therefore requires a completely new approach.

You also raise an important point about the need for collaboration in utilising new technologies. Our partnership will SEEK Limited will leverage the online course expertise SEEK has developed through its core business. We can not hope to be experts in every new technology and therefore must draw on the expertise of other providers through partnerships and joint ventures.

Swinburne is also developing an Institute of Online and Blended Learning. The Institute will be informed by sound research into pedagogy and online education delivery. It will draw on innovation pockets around Swinburne trialling new ideas, including the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.

I believe Swinburne Direct offers us exciting opportunities to truly innovate and go far beyond what we already know.


Posted by Shirley Leitch on April 01, 2011 at 03:41 PM EST #

Hi Susan,

Thank you for your comment. OUA remains important to Swinburne. However, the OUA business model constrains expansion by Swinburne because it precludes competition. For example, we are not able to offer Swinburne Accounting through OUA because it is already offered by another partner. There is also a quality assurance issue. Many of the OUA degrees are made up of units contributed by different universities and the student experience of these units is quite variable. We are committed to high quality online learning and Swinburne Direct will provide us with a vehicle for ensuring quality.

Hi Brad and Feng, thank you both for your comments too.


Posted by Shirley Leitch on April 01, 2011 at 04:02 PM EST #

This blog and further comments has helped me understand our positioning with SEEK. Matthew's comments re Facebook are also very relevant. I have seen an interstate university's provision of a secure 'facebook' environment which gives all first-year on campus students an environment to share, with photos, comments, status updates. In one introductory unit it is a requirement of students to blog, and comment. It is not embedded in the LMS though. Wouldn't it be great if we could do it within Blackboard.

Posted by Catherine Lang on April 05, 2011 at 09:45 AM EST #

Hi Catherine, thanks for your comment. My thinking behind this blog is to create a forum for sharing and discussing ideas, so I'm really pleased you're finding it useful.

In regards to social media, I strongly agree that it will play an increasingly integrated and critical role in online education, particularly in providing the online experience you outline below. Certainly with the new online courses we are developing for Swinburne Direct, I expect to see the use of social media far more integrated into the course delivery.


Posted by Shirley Leitch on April 07, 2011 at 09:24 AM EST #

It was excited to come across your site a short while ago. I arrived here today hoping to learn interesting things. I was not upset.
Thank you for making time to create these things and for sharing your mind.

Posted by Ediets Review on January 05, 2012 at 11:59 AM EST #

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