Universities must ‘be bold’ to avoid the battle of the e-learning brokers

Delft University of Technology Vice-President Anka Mulder

Delft University of Technology Vice-President Anka Mulder

Universities need to be bold, engage in global collaboration and develop solid structures to ensure open and online learning can reach the next level. This is a message from Delft University of Technology Vice-President Anka Mulder, who is encouraging institutions to “do it for themselves” and take the necessary next steps to maximise the reach of education.


By Annika Burgess


TU Delft, as the Dutch university is also known, is amongst a group of European universities that are ahead of the online learning curve, investing heavily in content creation, networks and staff training.


“It’s a lot about access to higher education, which is why we started our online programme at TU Delft. What I try to do is find a positive impulse for education. Find an incentive for staff to give more time and energy to good education,” says Mulder, former President of the OpenCourseWare Consortium and keynote speaker at OEB 2015.


“This has worked tremendously well. We started with a few people using open courseware and then MOOCs and other types of blended education. What I’m seeing now is that hundreds of our staff are involved. It is a positive incentive for them; it’s an incentive to be active in the innovation of education.”


After receiving a lot of attention for its MOOCs locally and abroad – Mulder cites “staggering figures” of around 600,000 learners – the university started experimenting with how to fit this into their strategic plans. For instance, speaking with private organisations to see how they could meet their education and training needs and sharing content with a global network of universities.


“What we are doing now is seeing how we can use MOOCs in our regular education and we’re also setting up a professional education programme for people who are already in a job. We do that two ways: we have courses that we broadcast worldwide, for example in financial mathematics and cyber security; the other thing is that we are talking with companies to see how we can help them with their training needs.”


One of TU Delft’s partners is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. They collaborated in the creation of the MOOC ‘Circular X – The Circular Economy: an introduction’, which starts in October 2015. The foundation has labelled TU Delft a Pioneer University.


The other major part of the strategy, which Mulder says will help keep educators stay in control of online learning, is the creation of university networks. Through EdX, TU Delft shares online products with institutions such as the Australian National University (ANU).


“For example, we can set up a system in which we recognise each other’s MOOCs and do the proctor testing,” Mulder says.


“Perhaps there is a MOOC on a management or engineering topic used at ANU that we can use at Delft. Students can choose that subject, follow it online and then we do the testing for ANU. Students get European credits and therefore can fit it into their usual course.”


However, this exchange is not always favourable for both parties. There are still steps to be taken to ensure a mutual recognition of foreign courses, and to develop a system of accreditation and certification, while considering quality assurance. “You can’t just recognise anyone’s MOOCs,” Mulder warns while also addressing the threat of losing the industry to brokers.


“If you draw parallel to other economic sectors you see that, for example in the taxi world or the hotel world, it’s not the hotels and the taxi drivers making all the money it’s companies like Uber and Airbnb. There will be brokers in online learning, as Uber is the broker in the taxi world. They don’t own taxis they own contacts and information. I’m hoping that there won’t be some sort of Uber equivalent that has nothing to do with the universities, teachers and researchers. I’m hoping that we ourselves will be the brokers.”


The solution, Mulder says, is that “universities have to be bold.” If universities want to be the ones taking on the broker role then the right structures need to be developed; structures in which cooperation – relationships like those TU Delft has developed with international universities – plays a major role.


“I have nothing against private industry but why shouldn’t we do it ourselves?”


You can hear more on these issues from OEB 2015 keynote speaker Anka Mulder when she joins a panel of learning experts to discuss ‘maximising learning’, in the plenary on Friday, December 4. 

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