EDENRW8 By Tony Bates - Disseminating the best research in online learning

November 12, 2014 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

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Following up on the previous guest post, Tony Bates continues to share with us today his expert perspective on the main discussion trends and conclusions of the EDENRW8 held in Oxford in 26th-28th October. In this second post, he starts his analysis of the research papers presented.

I take this opportunity to reiterate my congratulations to all the authors for the high quality of their work and in particular to the joint winners of the EDEN Best Research Paper Award. The BRPA is a valuable and prestigious initiative organised in collaboration with the Ulrich Bernath Foundation.



A Report on the State of Art of European Research into Open and Distance Learning - Part II - by Tony Bates


There were 42 research papers submitted and many were of good quality.

The award jury ended up with a short list of seven, each of which was good enough to have won the award. In the end, the jury unanimously agreed to share the award between two excellent papers that were completely different in approach and topic.

Denise Whitelock, Alison Twiner, John Richardson, Debra Field and Stephan Pulman's paper Feedback on Academic Essay Writing through Pre-emptive Hints - Moving towards ‘Advice for Action' was an extremely well conducted, classic quasi-experimental, quantitative study, that resulted in significant findings that have immediate applicability in the field of online distance learning and indeed beyond.

Sharon Slade and Paul Prinsloo's paper Student Perspectives on the Use of Data: Between Intrusion, Surveillance and Care, raised issues critical to the development of the use of Big Data for learning analytics. Using student consultation through forums and content analysis the authors identified a number of critical policy issues that organizations will need to address, from a student perspective. This is a critical area for any online programs or institutions with access to very large student or participant data sets.

I organized my reports on the papers/presentations in the parallel sessions under a list of common themes. In this blog post I'm presenting the first group of themes.


Several papers focused on identifying characteristics of online learners, especially the 'lived experience' of being an online learner. Andrews and Tynan found that online learners needed to develop core 21st century skills to succeed, such as time management, multi-tasking, maintaining a sense of well-being, and developing a sense of connectedness through the use of social media. Krey, Vogt and Bauhaus found that adult learners tended to prioritise family and personal interests, then professional interest, whereas a study for its own sake was rated third.

Brunner et al. found that both on-campus and online learners rated their readiness for learning highly, whereas Brown and Hughes found that first time distance learners really struggled and needed almost one on one support in their first few weeks of study if they were to persist with their studies.

Perhaps the most interesting results though came from Lorraine Delaney's study of open and distance education learners at Dublin City University. She argued that their programs help to improve social mobility, with skilled manual workers in particular graduating successfully.

I identified the following key lessons from this research:

  • open and distance learners/online learners are much more heterogeneous than on-campus students: social background, institutional differences, prior education/learning experiences, all influence their readiness for online learning
  • as a result, ODL students need much more personalization or individualization of their learning: one size does not fit all
  • special attention needs to be paid to 'at risk' students very early in their studies: intense personal/tutor support is critical for such students.

It can be seen that such findings are important not only for the design of for-credit programs but also for MOOCs.



There were surprisingly few papers directly on this topic (although papers on other topics such as assessment and quality are also relevant of course).

Sorensen evaluated her own blended learning course built around core design principles of dialogue, networking, knowledge creation by learners, and sharing, using social media, with the goal of empowering learners and enabling meta-learning.

Zajac and Piekarcyk used a gaming approach to help teachers individualize their teaching by identifying student game preferences and learning styles.

The main lessons for me from this research on course design were:

  • technology offers opportunity for radically new course designs and new approaches to student learning,
  • such new designs need to be driven and informed by sound pedagogical theory/principles and prior research.



There were four papers that focused on faculty development and teacher training in the area of learning technologies.

Romero et al., from the Open University of Catalonia (OUC) found that in-service school teachers learned best through communities of practice and least through formal courses. Tingle and colleagues worked with Croatian teachers at the beginning of a national program to integrate technology into teaching.

Peschke provided an interesting analysis of her role as an online instructor: a role that varied between script writer, stage manager, director and cameo performer.

The most challenging paper on this topic though for me was Cleveland-Innes', where she questioned the 'myth of the complete faculty member': an expert in subject matter, research, teaching and technology.

Main lessons:

  •  we should be working to use technology to decrease faculty workload, not to increase it, as at present
  • this will probably require team teaching, with different skills within the team (subject expert, learner support staff, course designer/pedagogue, technology specialist)
  • to individualize learning increased use of adaptive technology will be necessary


Tony Bates is an EDEN Senior Fellow and the President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd., Canada, a private company specializing in strategic consultancy and training in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education. Having been a founding member of the British Open University, he has developed an intense international career in the last two decades. Tony is acknowledged across the world as one of the best known, respected and influential personalities in the international open, distance and e-learning field. As one critic once noted, he has earned the right to have his books placed on every distance educators’ bookshelf. Read more here.


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