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The term “eLearning” has been deprecated …. Professor Mark Stiles Head of Learning Development & Innovation Staffordshire University . Abstract.

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The term “eLearning” has been deprecated…

Professor Mark Stiles

Head of Learning Development & Innovation

Staffordshire University



Staffordshire University was an early adopter of eLearning on an institutional scale and had been very successful both in terms of "penetration" and in embedding eLearning into the policies and business processes of the University. However a couple of years or so back it became apparent that: the rate of change was slowing, the use of the VLE-based eLearning provision was becoming if anything less, rather than more innovative, and the the very act of embedding had become a barrier to innovation. This lead to research into the "tensions between innovation and control" culminating, following considerable internal consultation in the development of a new five-year "Technology Supported Learning Strategic Plan" focused on meeting the University's business goals via a process of diversification of the tools and systems used and an approach focused on sustaining innovation and meeting the needs of an institution delivering offerings covering flexible, work-based and negotiated learning as well as more conventional courses. This talk will cover the background, genesis and adoption of this new approach, and describe the various approaches, many focused on communities of practice, and others designed specifically to diversify delivery and support, which are being used and developed. The "whole" is now being drawn together in the new JISC ENABLE project, funded under the Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design programme.



Or, how I got old and my beard turned grey working in “eLearning”


A bit of local history…

  • “Building the learning community”
  • Started in 1996 to achieve distinctiveness
  • Top down & bottom up “change process”
  • About learning and teaching
  • Active, collaborative & resource based learning
  • Initial “competitive projects”

Staffordshire 1996 - 2002

  • Transformational” Strategy with:
    • first, “seeding change” projects by bid
    • then, “seeding change” projects by departmental plan

By 2002…

  • Significant Cultural Change
  • Many modules using e-learning for “real”
  • Successful distance e-learning awards
  • Good “width” of penetration across institution
  • Strategies “quite” well joined-up
  • Recognition and QAA success
  • Staff getting rewards


  • Not learning at an organisational level
  • Breadth but not depth (“not all parts reached”)
  • Wheel reinvention
  • Not learning from others mistakes
  • eLearning not embedded
  • Innovations not insufficiently sustained

2002 Local Change Drivers

  • Changing one of the VLES
  • Changing UK HE sector
  • New University strategy:
      • Anticipate demand, meet individual needs & aspirations
      • Seek areas for growth - innovative delivery
      • CPD and specifically targeted areas
      • Widen participation and offer flexible opportunities
      • Foster enterprise - engage in focused, applied research
      • Play a lead role in regeneration
  • Major restructuring within the University
  • New Information Service
  • The SURF consortium and foundation degrees

So from 2002 – 2006…

  • A focus on Policy, Procedure, Role and Responsibility:
    • The integrative approach to course development
    • Holistic quality assurance and course development planning
    • Addressing “vertical” and “horizontal” organisational coherence
    • SURF partnership working
elearning policy
eLearning Policy

Designed to address/achieve:

flexible and independent learning; informal and individual learning

equity of opportunity and alignment of student support

a learning environment encompassing all of the learning experience

supporting the independent and lifelong learner and CPD

access to eResources from point of need; repurposing and reuse

robust quality assurance/enhancement, but with scope for innovation and employment of professional skills

encouragement of research, scholarship and development in eLearning

appropriate staff development, to ensure understanding of others’ roles

practice, policy and strategy are responsive to lessons learned and new opportunities; removing barriers that impede or restrict effective eLearning

resources and support are appropriate to requirements and understood

so in 2005 6
So, in 2005/6…

eLearning embedded in Strategies e.g. Information, LT & A

eLearning Policy “should” act as change enabler

Operational Policies, Processes and procedures being aligned eg Quality Assurance, WBL

but a closer look showed
But a closer look showed…

Rate of increase of use high but mainly eSupported or “mundane”

Mainstream possibly now less innovative than before

Still problems with processes not aligned

Policy focus seen by some as “Stalinist”

Enthusiasts “subverting” policy


The wider background…

  • Early drivers into eLearning were:
    • Widening access & inclusion
    • Employability & skills
    • Flexibility for full-time students in part-time employment
    • Government demands on quality, monitoring etc
    • Government policy on working with industry and commerce
    • Globalisation of HE and new competitors
    • Creation of new partnerships & new markets

But, early studies showed:

  • Whole-institution strategies rare
  • Need to build on localised initiatives
  • Need to understand MLE vs VLE
  • Lack of strategy a barrier to adoption

In 2002…

  • Top 10 reasons for VLE selection:
    • Ease of use in genera l 31
    • Ease of use staff 30
    • Cost 21
    • Flexibility/Versatility 16
    • Integration with MIS 15
    • Widely used 14
    • Functionality/Features 13
    • Pedagogic/Educational 13
    • Imposed/A mystery 10
    • Own system 10

In 2003:

  • JISC/UCISA MLE “Landscape Study” of UK HE and FE:
  • little evidence of enhancement of learning and teaching
  • pedagogic issues have not in general been addressed:
    • “It could be said that HE has never addressed pedagogy; its priority has always been, and broadly continues to be, research and the subject discipline. Until now, pedagogy has traditionally barely figured in planning or professional development. In FE, where learning and teaching have been the prime concerns, staffing and resource deficiencies have prevented, and continue to impede, a sustained focus on pedagogy.”
  • MLEs not embedded in the institutions strategic and operational frameworks.
  • MLE activities rarely an integral part of the philosophy, policies and practice of the institution

And by 2005?

  • From 2005 JISC/UCISA MLE “Landscape Study” of UK HE and FE:
    • …the results also show two thirds of modules of study being “web supplemented” - which would seem to indicate that the ‘stuff your notes into your VLE’ model is prevalent and increasing

And since?

  • From the 2008 UCISA TEL Survey
    • The tools that have increased significantly in usage are those for podcasting, e-portfolios, e-assessment, blogs and wikis.
    • Web supplemented practice … remains the leading activity…

About embedding…

“Everyone” starts out with a eLearning strategy - either stand-alone or embedded in another strategy


Strategies tend to be about introducing or extending eLearning & e-Environment not their “normal operation” - ie they are “Objectives” driven

Once objectives are attained, the focus tends to move elsewhere…


My view of “embedded”?

all policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities pertaining to the use of eLearning are fully integrated – not just with each other, but with those applying to “normal” practice.

eLearning is part of the culture of the institution, and is seen by all as part of normal working practice, and as part of the normal portfolio available to facilitate learning by teachers and learners.


Behind embedding…

  • ‘Vertical coherence’
    • Policy
  • ‘Horizontal coherence’
    • Operational Policies, Procedures, Roles & Responsibilities


  • “the intentional introduction and application within a role, group or organization of ideas, processes, products or procedures, new to the relevant unit of adoption, designed to significantly benefit the individual, the group, organization or wider society” (West and Farr, 1990)
  • What makes innovation happen and work is still not well understood
  • Organisations struggle to sustain innovation long term

“The University as an organisation”

excessive hierarchy and over-heavy bureaucracy, the comfort of ingrained routines, strong vertical command structures and weak lateral and bottom-up communication, unbalanced and non-integrated authority across professional domains, conservatism and risk aversion, territoriality, defensiveness and insecurity as well as wilfulness (Middlehurst, 1998)

The individual experts may be highly innovative within a specialist domain, but the difficulties of coordination across functions and disciplines impose severe limits on the innovative capability of the organization as a whole. (Lam, 2005)


Focus on “embedding:

Hefce eLearning Strategy 2005 30

Harnessing Technology: Transforming Learning and Children’s Services 22

Towards a Unified e-learning Strategy 26

In our ever more successful attempts to embed technology inlearning:

Are we in danger of engineering and regulating innovation out of our professional practice and business processes?


The fightback?

  • Tutors and learners will build their own toolsets from:
    • what is provided by the institution
    • what they have on their own (personal) computer
    • what is available on the Web
  • Learners will:
    • “opt out” of systems institutions and tutors might prefer them to use for formal learning activities
    • initiate “sharing” and “community” activities outside of formal learning using tools they have chosen
    • engage with wider and more diverse communities

Learner expectations?

  • Implicit understanding of technology & its use
  • Technology a core part of social engagement
  • Ubiquitous internet access is norm
  • Make widespread use of social networking and Web 2.0
  • Few part of online communities like Second Life
  • Cautious of publishing/sharing coursework online
  • Know when technology is being used for its own sake
  • Use it as means of doing other things, not as end in itself
  • Perceive personal f2f interaction as backbone of their learning
  • Provisional findings from JISC/Ipsos MORI, Expectations of ICT at university June 2007 (501 16-18 year olds)

The challenge…

  • Practitioners will need to:
    • cope with a diverse range of approaches taken by learners
    • guard against making stereotypical assumptions
    • consider how their chosen learning strategies may be interpreted by learners
  • Institutions will have to consider what and how they need to controland/or influence and what might be “let go” or exploited.

The real problem…

The last revolution, the one before that, and the one before that, all failed because we made the same non-technological mistakes each time.  It's time to notice those repeated errors, learn from them, and escape the cycle of failure.

Ehrmann, Stephen C.,  (2000) "Technology and Revolution in Education: Ending the Cycle of Failure," Liberal Education, Fall, pp. 40-49


What we decided to do in 2005/6…

  • “Loosening the bonds”:
  • Evolving Staff Development Strategy
  • Explicit embedding of TSL in PgCPHE
  • Integration of development with accreditable bespoke opportunities
  • Models of good practice
    • Develop and share good practice, promote uptake and quality
    • Successful local and national community
    • Representations and case studies
    • How to guides and Ask the experts
    • Embedded in Modules and Integrative Approach
    • (Theory to practice and practice to theory)
  • (Thanks to Jenny Yorke and Helen Walmsley)

What we decided to do in 2005/6…

  • “Loosening the bonds”:
  • Diversifying delivery
  • Repository based
  • Extraction of QAed resources
  • Promote reuse and repurposing
  • Include “novel” resources
  • Delivery to VLEs, Portals, Portfolios and Web 2.0 tools
  • Tested by JISC Projects (SURF WBL-Way)
the vision
The vision…

SURF MIS Systems











Tools & Systems


An “opportunity” arose!

  • University Executive Business Plan 2007-2012 includes:
  • • To take a new approach to course and product development:
  • Increase engagement with employers on work-based learning and other workforce development initiatives
  • Establish a robust new product development process that is market-facing and customer-focused
  • To grow and sustain alliances, networks and partnerships
  • Further develop SURF college network and other appropriate FE partnerships
  • To enhance customer experience
  • Increase the number of students who stay and successfully complete their courses
  • Integrate systematic customer feedback mechanisms into a robust framework for the measurement and improvement of customer satisfaction
  • To exploit technological advances
  • Develop a technical infrastructure (networks, mobile technology) that supports integrated business systems, administration, formal, informal and flexible learning
  • Implement new and existing learning and teaching media to support effective e-learning and delivery

I was empowered…

  • University Technology Supported Learning (TSL) Plan includes:
  • Implement effective management of learning resources and course related information
  • Expand TSL for Flexible Learning, WBL and BCE and the strengthening of SURF and other partnerships
  • Put in place a system of learner-focused Quality Enhancement for TSL and diversify the delivery of TSL
  • • Disseminate good practice and build effective staff development in TSL
  • • Improve the administration of TSL
  • • Implement a technical infrastructure to allow TSL applications to be introduced/removed in a flexible and responsive way

From the TSL Plan:

  • need to respect the need for appropriately distinct andindividual approaches by Faculties and course teams
  • policy should be sufficient to guide practice but apply the minimum level of control necessary and avoid needless bureaucracy
  • It is all about sustaining innovation…

Excellent timing by JISC!

  • The University needs its policies, processes, and supporting technologies for curriculum/product development to be more responsive and agile in responding to demand, particularly demand from employers. This needs to include flexible management of its existing portfolio of courses and modules in addition to that of the process for creation of new product, along with guidelines and workflows to encourage a culture of innovation. Whilst the University is already quite successful in these areas, and has a number of existing initiatives, both internally and externally funded, targeted at further improvement and innovation, it has struggled to join these various initiatives together to form a coherent basis for institutional change.


  • The University bid for funding to:
  • enable it to create a “Hub initiative” to join together its various change initiatives around curriculum development into a coherent and radical overall change process, which will ensure all stakeholder needs are understood, identify overlooked problems areas, provide a sustainable solution to the business problem above, and produce models, technical solutions, and advice which will inform the wider community – not just on curriculum development but on sustaining innovation at the same time as embedding organisational change.



Validation Process




Portfolio Review

Course Descriptions


eLearning Models/ Evaluation of TSL


Negotiated & Flexible Learning

Validation Support

Employer Engagement


Reuse of Content

Study Skills

What we don’t need more of:

Some current initiatives:



Employer engagement and WBL


Innovation in practice

Process innovation

Core data and CRI