Identifying innovation in higher education elearning strategies

Aczel, James; Continat, Olivier; Hardy, Pascale; Iggulden, Helen; Komáromi, Laszlo; Maillet, Katherine; Medina, Sara; Meiszner, Andreas; Obermueller, Eva; Spinoglio, Mark and Staniland, Karen (2006). Identifying innovation in higher education elearning strategies. In: Fourth EDEN Research Workshop: Research into Online Distance Education and Learning - Making the Difference, 25-28 Oct 2006, Castelldefels, Spain.


There are many case studies of individual Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) devising distinctive eLearning strategies, reported by the HEI itself, journalists, or research observatories. An extraordinarily wide range of university-level eLearning programmes are rapidly becoming available from large numbers of HEIs across Europe, and there are strong attempts being made to identify and disseminate case studies of innovative eLearning practices (e.g. MENON, 2006). However, the vital research goal of obtaining more systematic evidence across countries in relation to HEIs' innovations in eLearning strategies represents a particular challenge for collectors of case studies, especially given the diverse processes in different countries for measuring pedagogical value and cost-effectiveness.
By contrast, there are typically several reports a year of large-scale attempts to survey HEIs in relation to eLearning, sponsored, for example, by EU programmes or industry groups. Yet the factors that determine educational effectiveness are not, so far, well understood; and consequently it can be difficult to develop reliable quantitative survey items that simultaneously enable valid and insightful comparisons between essentially qualitative eLearning strategies. Moreover, such quantitative evidence is not collected systematically by the typical HEI; when collected, such evidence is commercially sensitive; and it is not easy for researchers to obtain independently of the HEI.
So, claims are made, for example, that European universities plan to 'expand their use of eLearning' (BBC News, 2005), but it is not at all clear what measures of expansion are appropriate, and what kinds of strategies are associated with such expansion.
The two-year research study described here attempted a mixed-method approach to the problem of identifying examples of innovation in relation to the eLearning strategies developed by HEIs. Where possible the study estimated the impact of the implemented eLearning programmes, but the emphasis was on illuminating a range of innovative eLearning strategy cases, rather than necessarily determining best practice.
Two key research questions asked by the study are:
1. How can innovation in Higher Education eLearning strategies be identified?
2. What factors are critical to the success of these strategies?
This research did not set out to obtain, directly, insight into why eLearning has not been more widely adopted by HEIs, why various eLearning projects have failed, why some eLearning projects have achieved less success than anticipated, or why some eLearning projects have achieved success more slowly than anticipated. However, by researching innovation, the challenges faced by the innovators, and how strategies needed to change over time, it is anticipated that the findings from this study might indirectly illuminate these crucial questions.
It is not possible within the space available here to do more than outline the methodology and highlight a few key findings: fuller reports are available on the project website

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