Transforming learning through e-learning
There are three key questions when looking at transformation in education and training:
Is it cost-effective?
Are we seeing better learning?
Can drop-out rates be reduced?
Answers to these questions were sought in one of the most detailed and influential pieces of research into course redesign from the Center for Academic Transformation in the US, funded by an $8.8 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Program in Course Redesign, led by Dr. Carol A. Twigg supervised a truly innovative, wide-ranging and significant experiment in the use of technology in learning. In the light of increasing participation, rising costs and problems with student retention, the research tackled the issues of costs, effectiveness ad retention head-on.
Background to research
Out of hundreds of applicants, 30 research universities, comprehensive universities, independent colleges, and community colleges in all regions of the United States institutions each received a grant of $200,000. The research wisely focused on the courses that generated most enrollments. Just 25 introductory courses cover a third of all students in four-year institutions and half of all students in community colleges. In many of these courses, the drop-out rate ranged from 15% at top research universities through 30-40% at comprehensive universities and to a staggering 50-60% in community colleges. Widening participation clearly has consequences in corresponding drop-out rates after only one year.
Successful transformational tactics
The findings showed that the benefits flowed. Not from an incremental strategy, led by institutions, but from transformational change.
There were several transformational pedagogic changes that were marks of success:
1. Concentrate on large enrollment courses (larger impact and cost savings)
2. Improvements apply to many types of courses
3. Don’t fiddle, redesign the whole course
4. Don’t bolt on new technologies to existing physical system
6. Move students from a passive, "note-taking" role to an active-learning orientation
7. Move from an entirely lecture-based to a student-engagement approach
Carol Twigg’s conclusion, at the end of this study was that we have “traditionally assumed that high quality means low student-faculty ratios, and that large lecture-presentation techniques supported by cheap labor constitute the only viable low-cost alternatives. But it is now clear that course redesign using technology-based, learner-centered principles can offer higher education a way out of this historical trade-off between cost and quality. New models demonstrate that it is indeed possible to improve learning and reduce costs at the same time. For the first time, we can have our cake and eat it too.”
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