New institute aims to boost digital learning
Ireland is caught behind the curve in digital learning, so can a new centre remedy the situation?
“The area of digital learning is one which is exploding, literally exploding with potential,” says Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn
Back in the old days – or maybe even not so old – getting a college education often meant dragging yourself out of bed to make it to lectures. Today though, the mushrooming field of digital learning means that you can learn pretty much anywhere. Armed with just a smartphone, tablet or laptop you could, if you wanted to, swot up on genetics on the bus or get to grips with philosophy lectures in your living room.
Of course, distance learning is nothing new, but online technologies have made access far easier, and one of the buzzwords in recent years has been the MOOC, or massive open online course, which lets anyone with an internet connection access lectures and other educational material and even earn credits for it.
Behind the curve
So where does Ireland stand in the digital learning revolution? We are somewhat on the back foot here, according to the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, who launched the new National Institute for Digital Learning recently at Dublin City University.
“The area of digital learning is one which is exploding, literally exploding with potential at the moment,” he said at the launch. “In truth from primary school to third level Ireland has been caught behind the curve on the digital [learning] revolution which is transforming society.”
He described how in many primary schools there has been “limited exploration” of how new technology can be harnessed to improve teaching and learning, how at second level we remain “a considerable distance away” from truly embedding technology in our delivery of all subjects and that while there are some online options for students at third level, “few distance learning or flexible learning options” remain for those who want to continue learning throughout their lives. He hopes that the new institute will begin to change the landscape.
Digital learning initiatives, courses, companies and organisations already exist in Ireland so what does NIDL expect to add? It will see 22 staff based at DCU develop online, “blended” (a mix of online and face-to-face) and distance learning courses for second and third level education, train staff and carry out research into how learning can be delivered and personalised, explains DCU’s president Prof Brian MacCraith.
“So far Ireland has been sleepwalking through this digital learning revolution but we believe that setting up a centre of scale with internationally recognised leadership [the new director Prof Mark Brown is moving to DCU from Massey University in New Zealand] will deliver a step change in this area,” he says.
DCU has been involved in remote learning for some time – the Oscail distance education centre has been based in Glasnevin since the early 1980s – and now NIDL will not only replace it but will extend its activities. Initial projects include developing a short history course for use in the new Junior Cert curriculum and an online masters programme on Irish studies for international students.