The impact of ICT on tertiary education : advances and promises


6 nov. 2013 (il y a 5 années et 2 mois)

197 vue(s)


The impact of ICT on tertiary education


advances and promises

Kurt Larsen

Stéphan Vincent

Organisation for Economic Co
operation and Development (OECD)

Directorate for Education / Centre for Educational Research and Innovation


OECD/NSF/U. Michigan Conference

“Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy”

11 January 2005

Washington DC

ABSTRACT: The promises of e
learning for transforming tertiary education and thereby
advancing the knowledge economy have rested on thr
ee arguments: E
learning could expand
and widen access to tertiary education and training; improve the quality of education; and
reduce its cost. The paper evaluates these three promises with the sparse existing data and
evidence and concludes that the re
ality has not been up to the promises so far in terms of
pedagogic innovation, while it has already probably significantly improved the overall
learning (and teaching) experience. Reflecting on the ways that would help develop e
further, it then i
dentifies a few challenges and highlights open educational resource initiatives
as an example of way forward.
The first section of the paper recalls some of the promises of
learning; the second compares these promises and the real achievements to date an
suggests that e
learning could be at an early stage of its innovation cycle; the third section
highlights the challenges for a further and more radically innovative development of e


; 2 rue A
ndré Pascal 75775 Paris Cedex 16



Knowledge, innovation and Information and Communica
tion Technologies (ICTs) have had
strong repercussions on many economic sectors, e.g. the informatics and communication,
finance, and transportation sectors (Foray, 2004; Boyer, 2002). What about education? The
based economy sets a new scene for
education and new challenges and promises
for the education sector. Firstly, education is a prerequisite of the knowledge
based economy:
the production and use of new knowledge both require a more (lifelong) educated population
and workforce. Secondly, ICT
s are a very powerful tool for diffusing knowledge and
information, a fundamental aspect of the education process: in that sense, they can play a
pedagogic role that could in principle complement (or even compete with) the traditional
practices of the educ
ation sector. These are the two challenges for the education sector:
continue to expand with the help (or under the pressure) of new forms of learning. Thirdly,
ICTs sometimes induce innovations in the ways of doing things: for example, navigation does

involve the same cognitive processes since the Global Positioning System (GPS) was
invented (e.g. Hutchins, 1995); scientific research in many fields has also been revolutionised
by the new possibilities offered by ICTs, from digitisation of information t
o new recording,
simulation and data processing possibilities (Atkins and al., 2003). Could ICTs similarly
revolutionise education, especially as education deals directly with the codification and
transmission of knowledge and information

two activities
which power has been decupled
by the ICT revolution?

The education sector has so far been characterised by rather slow progress in terms of
innovation development which impact on teaching activities. Educational research and
development does not play a st
rong role as a factor of enabling the direct production of
systematic knowledge which translates into “programmes that works” in the classroom or
lecture hall (OECD, 2003). As a matter of fact, education is not a field that lends itself easily
to experimen
tation, partly because experimental approaches in education are often impossible
to describe in precisely enough to be sure that they are really being replicated (Nelson, 2000).
There is little codified knowledge in the realm of education and only weak dev
mechanisms whereby communities of faculty collectively can capture and benefit from the
discoveries made by their colleagues. Moreover, learning typically depends on other learning
inputs than those received in the class or formal education process:

the success of learning
depends on many social and family aspects that are actually beyond the control of educators.

Information and communication technologies potentially offer increased possibilities for
codification of knowledge about teaching and fo
r innovation in teaching activities through
being able to deliver learning and cognitive activities anywhere at any time. Learning at a
distance can furthermore be more learner
centred, self
paced, and problem solving
based than
face teaching. It i
s also true, however, that many learning activities cannot be
coordinated by virtual means only. The emulation and spontaneity generated by physical
presence and social groupings often remain crucial. Likewise, face
face exchanges are
important when the
y enable other forms of sensory perception to be stimulated apart from
these used within the framework of electronic interaction. However, the influence of distance


and time is waning now that the technological capacity is available for knowledge
remote access and teamwork, and organising and coordinating tasks over wide areas (OECD,

Focusing on tertiary education, this paper examines the promises of ICTs in the education
sector, first as a way to better participate in the advancement of
the knowledge economy,
second as a way to introduce innovations. Leaving aside the impact of ICTs on the research or
science performed by tertiary education institutions (see Atkins and al., 2003;
, 2004),
we concentrate on e
learning, broadly under
stood as the use of ICTs to enhance or support
learning and teaching in (tertiary) education. E
learning is thus a generic term referring to
different uses and intensities of uses of ICTs, from wholly online education to campus
education through othe
r forms of distance education supplemented with ICTs in some way.
The supplementary model would encompass activities ranging from the most basic use of
ICTs (e.g. use of PCs for word processing of assignments) through to more advanced
adoption (e.g. specia
list disciplinary software, handheld devices, learning management
systems etc.). However, we keep a presiding interest in more advanced applications including
some use of online facilities.

Drawing on the scarce existing evidence, including a recent surv
ey on e
learning in post
secondary institutions carried out by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and
Innovation (CERI), it shows that e
learning has not yet lived up to its promises, which were
overstated in the hype of the new economy. ICT have non
etheless had a real impact on the
education sector, inducing a quiet rather than radical revolution. Finally, it shows some
possible directions to further stimulate its development.
The remainder of the paper is
organized as follows: the first section reca
lls some of the promises of e
learning; the second
compares these promises and the real achievements to date and suggests that e
learning could
be at an early stage of its adoption cycle; the third section highlights the challenges for a
further developmen
t of e
learning and shows what directions might be the most promising for
its further development.

I. Advancing knowledge and the (knowledge) economy: the
promises of e

The emergence of ICTs represents high promises for the tertiary education se
ctor (and, more
broadly, the post
secondary education sector if one takes into account their impact on non
formal education). ICTs could indeed play a role on three fundamental aspects of education
policy: access, quality and cost. ICTs could possibly adva
nce knowledge by expanding and
widening access to education, by improving the quality of education and reducing its cost. All
this would build more capacity for the advancement of knowledge economies. This section
summarises the main arguments backing the

learning is a promising tool for
expanding and widening access

to tertiary education.
Because they relax space and time constraints, ICTs can allow new people to participate in
tertiary education by increasing the flexibility of participation
compared to the traditional
face model: working students and adults, people living in remote areas (e.g. rural),
mobile students and even foreign students could now more easily participate in
education. Thanks to ICT, learners can indeed study
where and/or when they have time to do

rather than where and/or when classes are planned. While traditional correspondence
based distance learning has long played this role, ICT have enhanced traditional distance


education enabled the rise of a continuu
m of practices between fully campus
based education
and fully distance education.

More specifically, fully online learning can allow large numbers of students to access
education. The constraints of the face
face learning experience, that is, the size
of the
rooms and buildings and the students/teacher ratio, represents another form of relaxation of
space constraints. ICTs indeed allow a very cheap cost of reproduction and communication of
a lesson, via different means like the digital recording and its

(ulterior or simultaneous)
diffusion on TV, radio or the Internet. The learning process or content can also be codified,
and at least some parts be standardised in learning objects, for example a multimedia
software, that can in principle be used by milli
ons of learners, either in a synchronous or
asynchronous way. Although both forms might induce some loss in terms of teachers
interactivity compared to face to face teaching, they can reach a scale of participation that
would be unfeasible via fac
face learning.

When the needs are huge, fully online learning can be crucial and possibly the only realistic
means to increase and widen rapidly access to tertiary education. Some developing countries
have huge cohorts of young people and too small a
n academic workforce to meet their large
unmet demand: given training new teachers would take too much time, notwithstanding
resources, e
learning might represent for many potential students and learners the only chance
to study (rather than an alternative

to full face
face learning)
(World Bank, 2003)

learning can also be seen as a promising way for improving the

of tertiary education
and the

of learning. These promises can be derived from different characteristics
of ICTs: the

increased flexibility of the learning experience it can give to students; the
enhanced access to information resources for more students; the potential to drive innovative
and effective ways of learning and/or teaching, including learning tools, easier us
e of
multimedia or simulation tools; finally, the possibility to diffuse these innovations at very low
marginal cost among the teachers and learners.

Distance E
learning has not only the virtue to be inclusive for students that cannot participate
in terti
ary education because of time, space or capacity constraints, as it was shown above. It
can also in principle offer to students more personalised ways of learning than collective face
face learning, even in small groups. Although learning is often perso
nalised to some extent
in higher education through the modularity of paths, ICTs allow institutions to give students
to choose a wider variety of learning paths than in non
ICT supplemented institutions

the least because of the administrative burden
this would represent in large institutions. This
means that students can experiment learning paths that best suit them. Moreover, e
can potentially allow students to take courses from several institutions, e.g. some campus
based and others fully o
nline. This possible flexibility of individual curricula can be seen as
an improvement of the overall student experience, regardless of pedagogical changes. In one
word, e
learning could render education more learner
centred compared to the traditional

A prestigious university generally has a sizeable library gathering tons of codified information
and knowledge. One of the most visible impact of ICTs is to give easier and almost instant
access to data and information in a digital form that allows ma
nipulations that are sometimes
not otherwise possible. The digitisation of information, from academic journals through to
books and class notes, can change (and has changed) the life of students by giving them easy


access to educational resources, informat
ion and knowledge, as well as new data processing

But e
learning could also lead to the enhancement of quality in tertiary education by leading
to innovative pedagogic methods, new ways of learning and interacting, by the easy sharing
of th
ese new practices among learners and teachers communities, as well as by more
transparency and easier comparisons and cross
fertilisation of teaching materials and

Finally, e
learning can be seen as a promising way to reduce the cost of tertiary
which is critical for expanding and widening its access worldwide. It might thus represent
new opportunities for students having difficulties with this traditional format. Although ICT
investments are expensive, they can then generally be used a
t near
zero marginal cost. Where
would this cost
efficiency come from: the replacement of expensive brick and mortar
campuses by virtual campuses; the digitisation of library materials that would save the cost of
keeping huge paper collections; the improve
ment of efficiency of institutional management;
the automation of some of the traditional on
campus activities, including some teaching.

II. Living up to the promises: a quiet rather than radical revolution

Has e
learning (and especially online learning)
lived up to the promises outlined in the
previous section? It has to some extent. The reality of e
learning has never matched its most
radical promises (
Zemsky and Massy, 2004
): while experiments are still underway, the initial
stage of over
enthusiasm has

ended when new economy bubble burst about 2002. In this
respect, e
learning has followed the ups and down of the new economy and given rise to the
same caveats as in other sectors: irrational beliefs about its market value, over

and more announces than services really launched (
Boyer, 2002
). Like other
activities, e
learning has not proven yet its ability to generate high profits or to replace the old
economy of learning. However, interpreting this as a failure of e
learning woul
d however
simplify the reality and could be seen as “throwing the baby with the bath water”. While,
perhaps unsurprisingly, e
learning has not led to the radical revolution in tertiary education
that was sometimes prophesised, some of its forms are al
ready pervasive in tertiary education
and have already led to a quiet revolution. Its modesty should not lead to overlook it. This
section gives a overiew of the limited evidence we have about the adoption of e
learning in
tertiary education.

learning a

The radical innovation view was that fully online learning would progressively supersede
traditional face
face learning and represent a competitive threat for traditional tertiary
educational institutions. To some extent, this belief has been a

reason for the creation of new
ventures and for established institutions to enter this new market: early adopters could indeed
possibly gain a brand name and a serious competitive advantage in the new market. The
reality is that, while sometimes successfu
lly experimented, fully online learning has remained
a marginal form of e
learning and often not even the ultimate goal or rationale for e
adoption. However, this does not mean that e
learning in other forms has not gained
significant ground over
the past decade in tertiary education: there is indeed some evidence of
a noticeable growth of e
learning adoption both on demand and supply sides.


One must bear in mind that e
learning encompasses a wide range of activities. Following the
terminology use
d in the CERI survey (OECD, 2005), we distinguish between different levels
of online learning adoption as follows, from the less to the most intensive form of e


online presence;

Web supplemented
: the Web is used but not for key
“active” elements of the
programme (e.g. course outline and lecture notes online, use of email, links to external
online resources) without any reduction in classroom time;

Web dependent
: Students are required to use the Internet for key “active” elements
the programme

e.g. online discussions, assessment, online project/ collaborative

but without significant reduction in classroom time.

Mixed mode
: Students are required to participate in online activities, e.g. online
discussions, assessment, online

project/collaborative work, as part of course work,

part of face
face teaching/learning.
Significant campus attendance

Fully online
: the vast bulk of the programme is delivered online with typically no (or
not significant) campus

attendance or through “learning objects”.

What do we know about the major trends in the adoption of e
learning by institutions and

First, e
learning has grown steadily in the last decade, at a relatively rapid pace, but from a
very low startin
g point

and for some activities: from scratch. The lack of comprehensive
data renders these trends difficult to document, but existing surveys all point to the same
direction of an increasing activity/supply. A significant share of tertiary education insti
have developed some e
learning activities and strategies and believe in the critical importance
of e
learning for their long term strategy. The 2003 Sloan Survey of Online Learning based on
a sample of 1

000 US institutions shows that only 19% of U
S institutions have no advanced e
learning activities

that is web dependent, mixed mode or fully online courses (
Allen and
Seman, 2003
). The remainding 81% offer at least one course based on those advanced e
learning activities.

Second, this growth of e
learning under all its forms should continue in the near future. There
is indeed a converging evidence that tertiary education institutions consider as part of their
future development strategy. In the Sloan survey, less than 20% of the US tertiary educat
institutions considered online education as not critical to their long term strategy. Similarly,
data from the first international survey by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education
(OBHE) revealed that of the 42 UK institutions that responded (o
ut of a total population of
ca.106), 62% had developed or were developing an online learning strategy and most had
done so since 2000 (OBHE, 2002). The second survey undertaken in 2004, 79% of the 122
universities from the Commonwealth countries responding

to the survey had an institution
wide “online learning” strategy as such or integrated into other strategies (46%) or under
development (33%). Only 9% of these institutions had no e
learning strategy in place or under


development in 2004
. While these fig
ures may reflect some self
selection in the respondents,
they unambiguously show a significant adoption or willingness to adopt some form of e
learning in the coming future. Although reflecting different levels of adoption of e
all post

institutions participating in the CERI survey on e
learning point to the
same direction and report plans to increase their level of online delivery or to maintain their
already high levels (OECD, 2005).

Third, virtual universities are not likely to becom
e the paradigm of tertiary education
institutions. While it will most likely continue to grow, especially in distance institutions (see
below), no evidence point towards a predominance of this form of e
learning in the near
future in tertiary education. Wh
ile the mixed mode of learning blending online and on
courses now clearly appears as a better candidate, institutions head towards the simultaneous
offer of a variety of learning models. For understandable reasons, only few campus

(that is the bulk of post
secondary institutions) seem to aim at delivering a large
share of their courses fully online or at becoming virtual. While some institutions
participating in the CERI survey are at the avant
garde of e
learning, no campus
institution predicted to deliver more than 10% of its total programmes fully online within
three years (OECD, 2005). In the US, rather than offering only fully online courses (16%) or
only mixed mode courses (10%), most institutions offer both fully online

and blended
courses; moreover, the majority (67%) of academic leaders believe that mixed mode and web
dependent courses hold more promise than fully online, against only 14% having the opposite
view (Allen and Seaman, 2003). This clearly reflects what we
know about the main rationales
for undertaking e
learning. The OBHE surveys show that on
campus enhancement of
teaching and learning (1
) and improved flexibility of delivery for on
campus students (2
are the two key rationales in institutional strateg
ies of e
learning. Only 10% of the institutions
considered the enhancement of distance learning as more important than on
enhancement. Interestingly, the level of importance granted to distance or fully online
learning decreased between 2002 and 200
4 among returning respondents. Distance or fully
online learning remains the fifth most important rationale though (OBHE, 2002, p. 4).

Finally, while a generalisation of the fully online model is not probable for tertiary education
overall, at least in th
e medium run, this does not mean that fully online activities are not
growing rapidly nor that the fully online learning model gains ground at distance education
institutions (Bates, 1995). To our knowledge, no data on fully online enrolments are available

for other countries than the United States. According to the 2003 Sloan survey, more than 1.6
million students (i.e. 11% of all US tertiary
level students) took at least one fully online
course during the Fall 2002 and about one third of them, that is 578

000 students, took all
their courses online. For example, the University of Phoenix, the largest university in the
United States in terms of enrolments, has for example 60

000 of its 140

000 students online.
The enrolments of fully online students in the
United States were forecasted to increase by
about 20% between 2002 and 2003, to 1.9 million students

a projection that proved to be
accurate according to the 2004 Sloan survey (Allen and Seaman, 2003, 2004). This growth
rate, which is projected estimated
at 25% for 2005 is much higher than the growth rate of total
tertiary enrolments in the United States. From a low starting point, fully online learning is
growing at a rapid pace, even if it is merely as a complement to face
face or mixed mode

Moreover, fully online learning is clearly very important for distance institutions. In
the CERI survey, the institutions willing to embrace fully online learning to the greatest extent
were all virtual/distance learning only institutions (or branches) (O
ECD, 2005).


Some institutions had indeed reported no institution
wide strategy but some strategies developed by
departments or faculties, or other strategies related to e


In conclusion, e
learning seems to live up to its promises in terms of flexibility and possibly
access. It is a growing activity that has for example significantly widened the participation in
tertiary education of foreign students (OECD, 2004

Does e
learning improve the quality of tertiary education?

The real impact of e
learning on the quality of education is difficult to measure. E
largely embodies two promises: improving education thanks to improved learning and
teaching facili
ties; inventing and sharing new ways of learning thanks to ICTs, that is a new
specific pedagogic techniques. While the first promise is by and large becoming a reality, at
least in OECD countries, the second appears further from reach.

Viewed mainly as a
n enhancement of on
campus education, and thus matching the reality
depicted in the previous section, there is some evidence that e
learning has improved the
quality of the educational experience on both faculty and students sides (not to mention
nt of administrative management). All institutions participating in the CERI survey
reported a “positive impact” of greater use of e
learning in all its forms on teaching and
learning. The quality of education (with or without e
learning) is very difficult

to measure, not
the least because learning depends on students’ motivation, abilities and other conditions (e.g.
family, social, economic, health backgrounds) as much as on the quality of teaching.
However, the reasons explaining this positive impact on q
uality largely lives up to the
promises of e
learning to offer more flexibility of access to learners, better facilities and
resources to study, and new opportunities thanks to the relaxation of space and time
constraints. Basically, they do not correspond

to a significant change in class pedagogy, but to
a change in the overall learning experience. According to the institutions, the main drivers or
components of this positive impact come from:

facilitated access to international faculty/peers
, e.g. with t
he possibility of online lectures
or joint classes with remote students;

flexible access to materials and other resources
, allowing students to revise a particular
aspect of a class, giving more access flexibility to part
time students, or giving remote an
easy access to the library materials;

enhancement of face
face sessions
, as the

availability of archived lectures online frees
up faculty time to focus on difficult points and application and because the introduction of
learning has sometimes led t
o a debate on pedagogy;

improved communication

between faculty and students and increase of peer learning;

This “positive impact” on the overall learning experience is, alone, a significant achievement
of e
learning, even though it has not radically trans
formed the learning and teaching

The quality of fully online learning is a more controversial question, possibly because online
learning was once viewed as possibly become of higher quality than on
campus education
(possibly including e
g as already mentioned). Comparing the quality (or the beliefs
about the quality) of fully online learning against traditional distance learning, traditional
face learning or other mixed modes of e
learning might not yield the same results:
fully o
nline learning is indeed more readily comparable to distance learning than to on
campus education. While institutions having adopted e
learning have generally a positive


view of its possible impact on quality, there is little convincing evidence about the
superior or
inferior quality of fully online learning compared to other modes of tertiary education.

Another question is whether fully online learning has entailed innovation in pedagogy or just
replicated with other means the face
face experience. As
noted above, ICTs could indeed
entail pedagogic innovations and help create a community of knowledge among faculty,
students and learning object developers that would codify and capitalise over successful
innovation in pedagogy. At this stage, there is no
evidence that e
learning has yielded any
radical pedagogic innovation. The most successful fully online courses generally replicate
virtually the classroom experience via a mix of synchronous classes and asynchronous
exchanges. Arguably, they have not repr
esented a dramatic pedagogical change. We will see
below that in spite of worthwhile experiments, learning objects and open educational
resources are still in their infancy. They hold promises for educational innovation though.

The cost of e


learning lived up its promises in terms of cost
efficiency? Here again, not if one looks
at the most radical promises: as noted above, virtual universities have not replaced brick and
mortars and saved the cost of expensive building investments and main
tenance; digital
libraries have supplemented rather than replaced physical ones; the codification and
standardisation of teaching in a way that would allow less faculty or less qualified academics
has not become the norm, nor have new online learning objec
ts been invented to replace
faculty altogether; finally, it has become clear that there was no once
all ICT investments
and that the maintenance and upgrading costs of ICT facilities were actually important,
contrary to the marginal cost of then replic
ating and diffusing information.

Moreover, cost
efficiency has for many universities been a secondary goal compared to the
challenge of developing innovative and high quality e
learning courses at many tertiary
education institutions. Although the rankin
g of cost
efficiency has increased between 2002
and 2004 by 16%, 37% of respondents considered “cutting teaching costs long
term” as a key
rationale in the OBHE survey (OBHE, 2004)

a small percentage compared to the two key
rationales (over 90% of response
s). Again, most universities consider e
learning materials and
courses as a supplement to traditional class
room or lecture activities rather than a substitute.

The predominance of web dependent and mixed modes of e
learning makes the assessment of
the c
osts and benefits of e
learning investments more difficult to evaluate as they become part
of the on
campus experience. It is striking that the institutions participating in the CERI
survey on e
learning had no systematic data on their e
learning costs (OE
CD, 2005). In this
context, and after the burst of the economy bubble that put out of business many e
learning operations (many never really started their operations though), identifying
sustainable cost
efficient models for e
learning investments
in tertiary education has become

There are examples of cost
efficient models “outside” the traditional colleges and universities
though. Virtual tertiary education institutions as e.g. the Catalonia Virtual University have a
cost advantage as th
ey are developing e
learning material from scratch and not “building
onto” a physical camp. The Open University in the UK which is gradually moving from a
traditional distance learning courses using books, video cassettes, and CD
ROMs to online
courses has

reported that their costs per student are one third of the average cost for similar
campus programmes in the UK. Fixed capital costs are lower and it is easier to align


staffing structures to e
learning processes than at “traditional” universities. The

activities of Phoenix University, which is a private for
profit university mainly for adult
students, is also seen as cost
effective. Its business model is based on “standardised teaching”,
relatively small on
line class size, and use of proven

tech e
learning technologies
(inducing lower costs than more sophisticated technologies). Much of the faculty staff at
Phoenix University is often hired part time and having jobs at other tertiary education
institutions, which often implies that staff

development costs are lower at Phoenix University
than other tertiary education institutions.

learning investments in tertiary education can be cost
effective, but it depends on the
business model, the profile and number of students and topics (cost
ffectiveness has been
demonstrated in some cases in large undergraduate science classes (Harley, 2003), and initial
development costs. The calculations also depend on whether student opportunity costs are
taken into account. The initial costs for e
g development are often high (e.g.
infrastructure, creating course material from scratch, experimentation, new kind of staff/units,
immature technologies, etc.). In order to ensure that e
learning investments are cost efficient,
learning activities may n
eed to substitute parts of the on
campus teaching activities (rather
than duplication). Educational innovations, like learning objects, could for example allow
supporting the re
use and sharing of e
learning materials.

Although data is lacking on cost
iciency, at this stage there is little evidence that e
has led to more cost efficiency in tertiary education. Failures have been more numerous than
success stories, although the latter document the possible sustainability of e
learning. The
on of ICTs for administrating tertiary education institutions has probably been the main
source of cost efficiency in the tertiary sector, like in other economic sectors.

Conclusion: the e
learning adoption cycles

So, has e
learning lived up to its promi
ses? This is probably true as far as it holds promises for
incremental improvement, including an increased access and quality of the learning

a kind of change whose importance should not be underestimated. As for radical
innovation, the answer i
s rather: not yet. So far, e
learning has induced a quiet rather than a
radical revolution of tertiary education.

Perhaps e
learning will follow the same development path in tertiary education as other
innovations that first begin with experiments, then
expand to a group of early adopters before
becoming commonplace. Zemsky and Massy (2004) have proposed a possible “e
innovation’s S
curve” divided into four distinctive but often overlapping adoption cycles that
help understand the current develop
ment of e
learning, and, possibly, its future challenges.
The cycles include:


Enhancements to traditional course/program configurations
, which inject new
materials into teaching and learning processes without changing the basic mode of
instruction. Exampl
es include e
mail, student access to information on the Internet,
and the use of multimedia (e.g. PowerPoint) and simple simulations;


Use of course management systems
, which enable faculty and students to interact more
efficiently (e.g. Blackboard or WebCT
). They provide better communication with and
among students, quick access to course materials, and support for administrating and
grading examinations;



Imported course objects
, which enable the faculty to embed a richer variety of
materials into their cou
rses than is possible with traditional “do it yourself” learning
devices. Examples range from compressed video presentations to complex interactive
simulations including the increased use of “learning objects”


New course/program configurations
, which res
ult when faculty and their institutions
reengineer teaching and learning activities to take full advantage of new ICTs. The
new configurations focus on active learning and combine face
face, virtual,
synchronous, and asynchronous interaction and learnin
g in novel ways. They also
require faculty and students to adopt new roles

with each other and with the
technology and support staff.

The overview of current e
learning adoption shows that most tertiary education institutions in
OECD countries can large
ly be located in cycles one and/or two. These first two cycles have
largely built upon and reinforced one another. However, they have not fundamentally changed
the way teaching and learning is pursued at the large majority of institutions. Their
momentum h
as not automatically transferred to either increasing use and dissemination of
learning objects or to the use of new course/program configurations (e
learning cycles three
and four).

Cycles 3 and 4 correspond to changes remodelling more radically teaching

and learning.
While some experimentations underway give us some idea of where they could head, they are
still in their infancy.

The third cycle corresponds to the creation of “learning objects” that can potentially offer an
efficient approach to the deve
lopment of e
learning materials (i.e. reduced faculty time, lower
cost, higher quality materials), although many issues remain (e.g. copyright, lack of incentives
for faculty to create, the range of actors in and ‘location’ of the creative process, lack of

standardisation and interoperability of e
learning software). The learning objects model
implies material/course development that departs from the “craft
model” where the individual
professor is responsible for the majority of work. Instead it is a model
where the course is
assembled largely by or from third
party material.

Besides the technical and organisational challenges of developing learning objects, there are
also considerable pedagogical challenges using them. Some argue that learning is so
xtually based that the breaking up of the learning experience into defined objects is
destructive for the learning process. Evidence from the Open Learning Initiative at the
Carnegie Mellon University suggests that effective e
learning courses are often fa
cilitated by
having a ‘theme’ that runs throughout the course, which might be difficult to obtain with the
notion of decontextualised learning objects (Smith and Thille, 2004). Therefore, much more
research and development is needed to ensure pedagogical e
ffectiveness of the learning
objects model. For faculty members to rely on others for their material will also need a
cultural change as it would probably often be considered today as demonstrating “inferiority”.
Wide use of learning objects in tertiary ed
ucation will therefore only occur if major changes
in working habits and attitudes of faculty are possible.



Learning objects

» has become a widely used term

to describe a model of materials development that
manipulates and combines/re
combines discrete ‘chunks’ of material designed to be re
used and re
purposed for
different needs. There is however not a fixed definition of what a learning object is, and an o
bject may range
from a single chart to an entire course.


The development of learning objects is very much in its initial phase. This is illustrated by the
use of the public available learning objects repo
sitories as e.g. MERLOT (Multimedia
Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching). The basic idea behind the
MERLOT repository was to create a readily available, low
cost, web
based service to which
experimenters could post their learning objects
and from which interested practitioners could
rate and download objects for use in their courses. While there has been a tremendous growth
in the number of learning objects made available by MERLOT, there has been very little
interest to use what other col
leagues had made available and consequently little effort in terms
of rating others’ learning objects. This can however be seen as the first steps towards the
construction of knowledge communities in education.

Despite the premature stage of learning obje
cts and the large number of obstacles to
overcome, some standard form of learning objects will probably emerge and gain importance
in the development of e
learning in tertiary education as well as in other education sectors.

Very few institutions have rea
ched the fourth e
learning adoption cycle at an institution wide
scale. There are however institutions which are clearly experimenting with new ways of using
ICTs that change the traditional organisation and pedagogy of tertiary education. One such

is the previously mentioned Open Learning Initiative at the Carnegie Mellon
University. The use of cognitive and learning sciences to produce high quality e
courses into online learning practices is at the core of this initiative (Smith and Thill
e, 2004).
As there is no generic e
learning pedagogy, the aim is to design as “cognitive informed” e
learning courses as possible. The establishment and implementation procedures for routine
evaluation of the courses and the use of formative assessment for

corrections and iterative
improvements are part of the e
learning course development. The development of the e
learning courses often rely on teamwork including faculty from multiple disciplines, web
designers, cognitive scientists, project managers, lear
ning designers, and evaluators.

The key question for any project like the Open Learning Initiative attempting a combination
of open access to free content, and a fee
service model for students using the courses in a
degree granting setting is its sus
tainability. This initiative could not have been realised
without significant voluntary contributions from private foundations and a major research
grant from the National Science Foundation to start the Pittsburgh Science of Learning

The next sec
tion will address the challenges for the adoption of these third and fourth
adoption cycles.

III. Challenges for the further development of e
learning in tertiary
education: what sustainable innovation model?

The aim of this final section is to identify
and reflect on some of the key issues that would
need to be considered in a systematic way for e
learning to develop further and become a
deeper driver of innovation in tertiary education. If the vast majority of colleges and
universities are to embrace th
e third and fourth e
learning adoption cycles, a sustainable
innovation and investment model will have to be developed. A first challenge lies indeed in
the development of sustainable e
learning innovation models which go beyond using e
learning as an add
on to traditional forms of teaching and learning in tertiary education but
rather invent new, useful and better pedagogic innovations partly substituting traditional face


face teaching. This will require a broad willingness of these institutions to sear
ch for new
combinations of input of faculty, facilities and technology and new ways of organising their
teaching activities. A second challenge lies in the development of a realistic model for
investment in e
learning that would stimulate the participation

of faculty and other
stakeholders and be financially sustainable, which is not straightforward given that there is
little systematic knowledge on the real costs and benefits of e
learning investments in tertiary
education. However, like for ICT investment
s in other sectors, the cost
effectiveness of e
learning investments will depend on whether new organisational and knowledge management
practices are adopted. It might indeed be more difficult to provide the “softer” social,
organisational and legal change
s in tertiary education than the technological infrastructures
necessary to fully embrace the advantages of e

This section emphasises partnerships and networks as a possible way forward for further
investment, product development and innovation
diffusion in e
learning. There are many
examples where tertiary education institutions seek to share the costs of e
development through partnerships and networking. Partnership and network building are also
useful for having access to new knowledg
e, to learn from others experience and exchange
information about the latest developments in e
learning and they can involve many different
organisations as e.g. traditional colleges and universities, virtual universities, libraries, for
profit ICT and tra
ining companies from different sectors etc. These activities can range from
sharing material, joint technology and software development, joint research and development,
joint marketing, joint training, connectivity, etc. and can be sub
national, national a
international (OECD, 2004b; Cunningham and al., 2000). After showing the importance (and
challenges) for universities to engaging their faculty in e
learning, we will turn to an
innovative practice exemplifying the potential power of partnerships and ne
tworks: Open
Educational Resources (OER). They will indeed most likely have significant implications for
the way e
learning activities will develop over the coming years in tertiary education.

Engaging universities and faculty in e

In most OECD
countries the question is no longer whether or not tertiary education
institutions should invest in e
learning. Because of the competition between institutions and
student demand for easy access to courseware material and flexible learning environments,
st tertiary education institutions willing to deliver quality teaching are bound to invest in e
learning. As we have seen, the large majority of institutions are now embracing e
adoption cycles one and two, which are basically about providing the
students with better
access to learning and course material and facilitating the electronic communication between
students and teachers. Again, only very few institutions and faculty are however
systematically exploring and producing re
usable learning mat
erial and objects (third cycle) or
have taken full advantage of new ICTs with focus on active learning that combines face
face, virtual, synchronous, and asynchronous interaction and learning in novel ways (fourth
cycle). The latter approach would requi
re faculty and students to adopt new roles

with each
other and with the technology and support staff.

While ICTs offer powerful new instruments for innovation, tertiary education institutions are
generally decentralised institutions where individual fac
ulty often has the sole responsibility
for teaching courses and delivering course material. Adoption of the third and especially the
fourth e
learning cycle would imply changing to more collaborative ways of organising and
producing teaching material. Facu
lty members would in many cases have to collaborate with
a whole range of new staff as e.g. course managers, web designers, instructional/pedagogical


designers, cognitive scientist etc. to produce course material. This could lead to resistance
from “tradit
ional” faculty arguing that current teaching practices have proved its value for
centuries and there is no need to change them to new pedagogical and teaching methods,
which have hardly proven their efficiency yet. Moreover, promotion of faculty and fundin
allocations in universities are often linked to research activities rather than teaching activities,
often seen as less prestigious. Faculty members have therefore often relatively few incentives
to invest their time in e
learning activities.

The adopt
ion of new ways of teaching and learning at tertiary education institutions through
ICTs can therefore create organisational conflicts and tensions. New organisational
innovations, new knowledge management practices, and more team working are therefore
essary conditions for tertiary education institutions to be able to move to e
adoption cycles three and four. The CERI study on e
learning case studies in post
education has identified a number of lessons learnt by institutions that are
in the forefront of
learning development (OECD, 2005):

More strategic e
learning planning at the institutional or faculty level and to tie this to
the overall goals of the institution is needed;

A paradigm shift in the way academics think of university
teaching would be
necessary, e.g. a shift away from ‘scepticism about the use of technologies in
education’ and ‘teacher
centred culture’ towards ‘a role as a facilitator of learning
processes’, ‘team worker’, and ‘learner
centred culture’;

Targeted e
ning training relevant for the faculty’s teaching programme as well as
ownership of the development process of new e
learning material by academics is also

There is no one
way or trajectory for e
learning development at tertiary education

institutions. But it might prove more difficult to provide the “softer” social, organisational and
legal changes in tertiary education than provide the technological infrastructures necessary to
fully embrace the advantages of e
learning (David, 2004). It

will depend on a whole range of
factors not necessarily related to the development of e
learning including:

Changes in the funding of tertiary education and in particular e
learning funding;

Student demography;

Regulatory and legal frameworks;

ion between traditional tertiary education institution themselves and with
new private providers;

Internationalisation including the possibility of servicing foreign students living
abroad; and not the least to the extent to which students will want to us
e the new
opportunities for new and flexible ways of learning.

Many tertiary education students would possibly prefer to have some kind of “mixed model”
learning choice involving a whole range of different learning opportunities and forms
combining face
face, virtual, synchronous, and asynchronous interaction and learning.

A possible way forward: Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources appear as a potentially innovative practice that gives a good
example of the current opportunities and

challenges offered by ICTs in order to trigger radical
pedagogic innovations. Digitalisation and the potential for instant, low
cost global


communication have opened tremendous new opportunities for the dissemination and use of
learning material. This has

spurred an increased number of freely accessible OER initiatives
on the Internet including 1) open courseware
; 2) open software tools

(e.g. learning
management systems); 3) open material for capacity building of faculty staff
; 4) repositories
of learni
ng objects
; 5) and free educational e
learning courses. At the same time, there are
now more realistic expectations of the commercial e
learning opportunities in tertiary

The OER initiatives are a relatively new phenomenon in tertiary educati
on largely made
possible by the use of ICTs. The open sharing of one’s educational resources implies that
knowledge is made freely available on non
commercial terms sometimes in the framework of
users and doers communities. In such communities the innovati
on impact is greater when it is
shared: the users are freely revealing their knowledge and, thus work cooperatively.

These communities are often not able to extract economic revenues directly from the
knowledge and information goods they are producing an
d the “sharing” of these good are not
steered by market mechanisms. Instead they have specific reward systems often designed to
give some kind of credit to inventors without exclusivity rights. In the case of open science,
the reward system is collegial re
putation, where there is a need to be identified and recognised
as “the one who discovered” which gives incentives for the faculty to publish new knowledge
quickly and completely (Dasgupta and David, 1994). The main motivation or incentive for
people to ma
ke OER material available freely is that the material might be adopted by others
and maybe even is modified and improved. Reputation is therefore also a key motivation
factor in “OER communities”. Being part of such a user community gives access to
ge and information from others but it also implies that one has a “moral” obligation
to share one’s own information.

Inventors of OER can benefit from increased “free distribution” or from distribution at very
low marginal costs. A direct result of free
revealing is to increase the diffusion of that
innovation relative to conditions in which it is licensed or kept secret. If an innovation is
widely used it would initiate and develop standards which could be advantageously used even
by rivals. The Sakai pr
oject has, for example, an interest in making their open software tools
available for many colleges and universities and have therefore set a relatively low entry
amount for additional colleges and universities wishing to have access to the software tools
that they are developing.

The financial sustainability of OER initiatives is a key issue. Many initiatives are sponsored
by private foundations, public funding or paid by the institutions themselves. In general, the
social value of knowledge and informat
ion tools increases to the degree that they can be
shared with and used by others. The individual faculty member or institution providing social
value might not be able to sustain the costs of providing OER material freely on the Internet
in the long term.

It is therefore important to find revenues to sustain these activities. It might
e.g. be possible to charge and to take copyrights on part of the knowledge and information


A well
known example is the MIT Open Courseware project which is making the course material taught at
MIT freely available on the Internet.


An example is the so
called Sakai project in United Sta
tes where the University of Michigan, Indiana
University, MIT, Stanford University and the UPortal Consortium are joining forces to integrate and synchronise
their educational software into a pre
integrated collection of open software tools.


The Bertelsm
ann and the Heinz Nixdorf foundations have sponsored the e@teaching initiative aiming at
advising faculty in Germany in the use of open e
learning material.


E.g. the MERLOT learning objects repository.


activities springing out of the OER initiatives. Finding better ways of sharing an
d re
using e
learning material (see the previous mentioned discussion on learning objects) might also
trigger off revenues.

It is also important to find new ways for the users of OER to be “advised” of the quality of the
learning material stored in open
repositories. The wealth of learning material is enormous on
the Internet and if there is little or no guidance of the quality of the learning material, users
will be tempted to look for existing brands and known quality.

There is no golden standard or m
ethod of identifying quality of learning material in tertiary
education on the Internet as is the case with quality identification within tertiary education as
a whole. The intentions behind the MERLOT learning object repository was to have the user
ity rating the quality and usability of the learning objects made freely available. In
reality very few users have taken the time and effort to evaluate other learning objects.

There is little doubt that the generic lack of a review process or quality ass
essment system is a
serious issue and is hindering increased uptake and usage of OER. User commentary,
branding, peer reviews or user communities evaluating the quality and usefulness of the OER
might be possible ways forward.

Another important challenge

is to adapt “global OER initiatives” to local needs and to provide
a dialogue between the doers and users of the OER. Lack of cultural and language
sensitivities might be an important barrier to the receptiveness of the users. Training
initiatives for use
rs to be able to apply course material and/or software might be a way to
reach potential users. Also important will be the choice (using widely agreed standards),
maintenance, and user access to the technologies chosen for the OER. There is a huge task in
better understanding the users of OER. Only very few and hardly conclusive surveys on the
users of OER are available
. There is a high need to better understand the demand and the
users of OER.

A key issue is who owns the e
learning material developed by
faculty. Is it the faculty or the
institution? In many countries including the United States, the longstanding practice in tertiary
education has been to allow the faculty the ownership of their lecture notes and classroom
presentations. This practice has
not always automatically been applied to e
learning course
material. Some universities have adopted policies that share revenues from e
learning material
produced by faculty. Other universities have adopted policies that apply institutional
ownership only
when the use of university resources is substantial (American Council of
Education and EDUCAUSE, 2003). In any case, institutions and faculty groups must strive to
maintain a policy that provides for the university’s use of materials and simultaneously fos
and supports faculty innovation.

It will be interesting to analyse how proprietary versus open e
learning initiatives will develop
over the coming years in tertiary education. Their respective development will depend upon:

How the copyright practic
es and rules for e
learning material will develop at tertiary
education institutions;

The extent to which innovative user communities will be built around OER initiatives;

The extent to which learning objects models will prove to be successful;


One exception is the user survey of MIT’s Open Co


The extent
to which new organisational forms in teaching and learning at tertiary
education institutions will crystallise;

The demand for free versus “fee
paid” e
learning material;

The role of private companies in promoting e
learning investments etc.

It is howeve
r likely that proprietary e
learning initiatives will not dominate or take over open
learning initiatives or vice versa. The two approaches will more likely develop side by side
sometimes in competition but also being able to mutually reinforce each othe
r through new
innovations and market opportunities.


There are many critical issues surrounding e
learning in tertiary education that need to be
addressed in order to fulfil objectives such as widening access to educational opportunities;
cing the quality of learning; and reducing the cost of tertiary education. E
learning is, in
all its forms, a relatively recent phenomenon in tertiary education that has largely not radically
transformed teaching and learning practices nor significantly ch
anged the access, costs, and
quality of tertiary education. As we have shown, e
learning has grown at a rapid pace and has
enhanced the overall learning and teaching experience. While it has not lived up to its most
ambitious promises to stem radical innov
ations in the pedagogic and organisational models of
the tertiary education, it has quietly enhanced and improved the traditional learning processes.
Most institutions are thus currently in the early phase of e
learning adoption, characterised by

enhancements of the learning process but no radical change in learning and

Like other innovations, they might however live up to their more radical promises in the
future and really lead to the inventions of new ways of teaching, learning and
within a knowledge community constituted of learners and teachers. In order to head towards
these advances innovation cycles, a sustainable innovation and investment model will have to
be developed. While a first challenge will be technical, th
is will also require a broad
willingness of tertiary education institutions to search for new combinations of input of
faculty, facilities and technology and new ways of organising their teaching activities. Like
for ICT investments in other sectors, the c
effectiveness of e
learning investments will
depend on whether new organisational and knowledge management practices are adopted.
Experiments are already underway that make us aware of these challenges, but also of the
opportunities and lasting promise
s of e
learning in tertiary education.


Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J. (2003), Sizing the opportunity. The Quality and Extent of Online
Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003, The Sloan Consortium.

American Council on Education and EDUCAUS
E (2003),
Distributed Education:
Challenges, Choices and a New Environment
, Washington DC.

Atkins, D.E., Droegemeier, K.K., Feldman, S.I., Garcia
Molina, H., Klein, M.L.,
Messerschmitt, D.G., Messina, P., Ostriker, J.P., Wright, M.H.,
Final Report of the

NSF Blue


Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure, available at
. February 2003.

Bates, A. W. (1995),
Technology, e
learning and Distance Educati
, Routledge,
London/New York.

Boyer, R. (2002),
La croissance, début de siècle.
De l’octet au gène
, Albin Michel, Paris;
English translation:
The Future of Economic Growth: As New Becomes Old
, Edward Elgar,
Cheltenham, UK, 2004.

Cunningham, S., Ryan,
Y., Stedman, L., Tapsall, S., Bagdon, S., Flew, T., Coaldrake, P.
The Business of Borderless Education
, Australian Department of Education, Training
and Youth Affairs, Canberra.

Dasgupta, P. and P.A. David (1994), “Towards a New Economics of Scien
, 23(5).

David, P.A (2004),
Toward a Cyberinfrastructure from Enhanced Scientific Collaboration:
Providing its ‘Soft’ Foundations May be the Hardest Threat
, Oxford Internet Institute.

Foray, D. (2004),

The Economics of Knowledge,
Press, Cambridge, USA.

Harley, D. (2003),
Costs, Culture, and Complexity: An Analysis of Technology Enhancements
in a Large Lecture Course of UC Berkeley,

Center for Studies in Higher Education. Paper
03, Berkeley University.

Hutchins, E. (1995),
ognition in the Wild,
MIT Press, Cambridge, USA.

Nelson, R. (2000), “Knowledge and Innovation Systems”, in OECD,
Knowledge Management
in the Learning Society
, Paris.

Observatory for Borderless Higher Education (2002),
Online Learning in Commonwealth

Results from the Observatory 2002 Survey
, London.

OECD (2003),
New Challenges for Educational Research
, OECD, Paris.

OECD (2004a),
Innovation in the Knowledge Economy

Implications for Education and
, Paris.

OECD (2004b),
nalisation and Trade in Higher Education. Opportunities and
, Paris.

OECD (2005 forthcoming),
learning Case Studies in Post
Secondary Education
, Paris.

Smith, J. M. and C. Thille (2004),
The Open Learning Initiative

Cognitively Informed e
, The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, London.

World Bank (2003),
Constructing Knowledge Societies: New Challenges for Tertiary
, The World Bank, Washington D.C.


Zemsky, R. and W.F. Massy (2004),
Thwarted Innovation

What Hap
pened to e
and Why,

The Learning Alliance, Pennsylvania University.