Broadly understood as the use of ICT to enhance or support learning and teaching in education, e learning is becoming increasingly prominent in tertiary education, with universities increasing provision and more students signing up. But is it actually changing the way universities teach and students learn, or is it simply a case of students typing up their essays on computers and professors sending them course reading lists or work assignments by e-mail?
The vision common at the height of the dot.com boom of students following entire courses at a prestigious overseas university from the comfort of their own home, without the inconvenience and cost of living abroad for years has largely failed to materialise. Students are still mostly wedded to classrooms for at least part of the time, and after the hype of the new economy, growing disenchantment with e learning has replaced earlier over-enthusiasm.
Failures of e learning operations have, at least temporarily, overshadowed the prospects of widened and flexible access to tertiary education, pedagogic innovation, decreased cost, that e learning once embodied. But universities are gradually bringing e-learning into the mainstream of their educational programmes, and it is often an integral part of a classroom-based course. Will this trend continue? How could governments and institutions help make further progress in e-learning and reap all its potential benefits?
To try to answer some of the questions raised, the OECD, in partnership with the UK-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), carried out a survey of e-learning in 19 tertiary education institutions in 13 countries. The qualitative findings of the project were complemented by an OBHE survey of online learning in Commonwealth universities undertaken in 2004. The results of the survey have been published in E-learning in tertiary education (2005). A related policy brief summarises its main conclusions.
CERI work on ICT in education currently continues with a project on Open Educational Resources and under the project on the Future of tertiary education.