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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