The current issue of the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (JOFDL) continues with the new editorial style introduced in 2014 that provides more in-depth exploration of the matters surrounding the journal and its content.
This time we look to the future of open, flexible, and distance learning—particularly in relation to tertiary education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Given how quickly digital technologies are changing, it is not surprising that many people, including the editorial team, are interested in the next “new thing”. The New Zealand Government is also interested. Following the Innovations in Tertiary Education Delivery Summit in 2014, the Government requested that the Productivity Commission investigate how trends in technology might drive future changes in tertiary education and the extent to which these changes could improve the quality of that provision. An issues paper is expected in February 2016 and submissions will be sought from interested parties. The final report to Government is due in February 2017 (New Zealand Productivity Commission, 2015).
The reports published by the New Media Consortium (NMC) are a growing resource that proves useful when trying to get some sense of what is to come. The NMC is an international community of researchers, educators, and digital technology experts who pool their expertise and combine their understanding and evidence of the ways in which digital technologies are influencing education. The community produces the yearly Horizon Report series (including the Higher Education edition) and, led by Larry Johnson, has done so for over a decade. The experts who contribute to these reports come from a diverse range of backgrounds, sectors, countries, and regions including New Zealand.
The three original research articles and the book review in the current issue fit with this future-focused theme. It explores some of the possible future scenarios for tertiary education in New Zealand, and the use of blended learning opportunities in tertiary education, which is a key trend identified in the most recent NMC Horizon Report for higher education (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2015). We also recognise the increasing importance of cultural dimensions of tertiary online learning (which are aligned to future demographics) and the increasing trend of using social software in online learning, including formal tertiary learning settings.
The first article sets the scene for future-focused thinking by reporting on the DEANZ2016 scenario set that was developed as a response to a challenge posed by Ako Aotearoa leader, Dr. Peter Coolbear, at the 2010 DEANZ conference. The project created a set of future scenarios that were further developed into a resource for institutional leaders and academics who recognise the need for guidance about what tertiary education might look like in future. The project used a Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) scenario planning approach that included interviews with 16 national and international education leaders. From this, four potential future scenarios were developed that were plotted on a graph highlighting the tension between the academy versus employers, professions and iwi on one axis and standardised versus customised education on the other. The resulting four quadrants outline the alternative scenarios named articulation, the ‘supermarket’, quality branded consortia and self-determination. The authors expected that tertiary educational practice was likely to become a mix of all scenarios by 2016—and that appears to be the case.
The next two articles outline research conducted with teacher education students in online and blended learning contexts. The first of these, reports on a blended course for initial teacher education students undertaking their own research by inquiring into the practice of teaching in New Zealand schools and the e-tools and strategies that can support this process. Empowering teachers to research their own practice is certainly a future-focused endeavour. The third article also focuses on teacher education. The authors investigate cultural dimensions of online learning to gain a better understanding of the learning needs of an increasingly diverse student population. In an earlier issue (Fields, Davis, & Hartnett, 2015), the editorial team highlighted that many indigenous languages, cultures, and associated knowledge are increasingly endangered—including the indigenous language te reo Māori. We also pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, people from indigenous cultures are adopting flexible and distance learning with blended approaches that enable personal connections. The current article builds on this argument, indicating the growing need for intercultural awareness as ethnic, cultural, social, and linguistic diversity increases in the New Zealand population.
The book review of Jon Dron and Terry Anderson’s 2014 book, Teaching crowds: Learning and social media rounds off this issue. This book draws on Anderson and Dron’s extensive years of experience as online distance educators in the tertiary sector. The authors argue that social software’s ability to “aggregate the actions and behaviours of many people” (Dron & Anderson, 2014, p. 62) is changing the nature of online learning and it will therefore become an important part of online learning into the future.
An early step on our journey to the future will be to help the Productivity Commission to investigate how trends in technology, among other factors, could drive future changes in education. We will also continue to support NMC and other more global reviews, and collaborate with other international journals and agencies such as UNESCO. We look forward to the next decade of open, flexible, blended, distance, and distributed learning and the ongoing changes to education in Aotearoa New Zealand and globally—whatever they bring.
Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Athabasca University Press.
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
New Zealand Productivity Commission. (2015). Productivity growth for maximum well-being. Retrieved from http://www.productivity.govt.nz/news/new-inquiry-new-models-of-tertiary-education
By Maggie Harnett