Business Models for Online Education

March 18, 2013

The latest issue of the Online Journal of Distance Education Research has an article that tries to define a “3rd” university model.

Rubin, B. (2013). University Business Models and Online Practices: A Third Way. Online Journal of Distance Education Administration, 16(1).

This 3rd model for online university is not quite like the traditional campus based university that runs online programs either through faculties or an extension department, with a whole lot of faculty control and craft development.  Nor is like the non-researching for -profit university with an industrial model using adjuncts to teach and professionals to develop consistent and arguably high quality education.  Rather, this third model really has a full time faculty and it tries to empower the faculty, but course design and testing is a shared responsibility between “experts” and the faculty. In the article (see figure below) you’ll see two really contentious issues:

  • allowing faculty to specialize (and be rewarded) in one of the three roles in the academy - discovery research, teaching and destination, or service. Most faculty are vehemently oppsed to models that differentiate their jobs and many see it as a means only to increase either workload or accountability driven change.
  • increasing sharing of control with professions such as learning designers, editors, media experts

Read the rest of this entry »

Buddhism and Thailand

January 28, 2013

This month, I enrolled in a 4 week course on Buddhism led by a member of our Unitarian Congregation here in Edmonton. I’ve always been interested in Eastern religions and the opportunity of this course coupled with my first opportunity to visit South East Asia, proved to be a great learning opportunity.

On the first evening of the course we were discussing basic Buddhist concepts including, of course, the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is that all life is suffering. These kind of all inclusive statements always make me suspicious -especially when they don’t align with own experience. In a similar way that I reject the Christian idea that I am an inevitable sinner, (though I do make mistakes) I have trouble conceiving of my life as continuous suffering.  With the caveat that I realize that I am a privileged male, with high status job, in a rich country, I mentioned this confusion  to the class and the course instructor. She wondered if my moments of anger weren’t suffering (but I don’t get  angry that often either) and I later reflected that certainly the degeneration of the body through aging causes suffering as most recently experienced with death of my Mother a few months ago. Nonetheless, I wasn’t sure about the veracity of this first Noble Truth.

The evening after the second class of the seminar, I headed off to Bangkok to deliver the keynote at the Asian Regional Association for Open Courseware and Open Education Conference. The trip went well and I was met at the airport by my ever attentive Thai hosts, and driven to a nice hotel in downtown Bangkok. The next few days were spent touring the quite amazing sites, palaces, historic and modern temples in this capital city and attending the conference. It is a wonderful and privileged way to see the sites, with a local faculty member from the Thai Cyber University Project (my hosts for the whole journey) to guide and translate and a private driver

and the company of colleagues from Japan and the US. My talk went pretty well and the food, conversation and “networking” was great.   My hosts heard that I was interested in hammered dulcimer music and found a shop that sold me traditional Thai Khim, for a very reasonable price. Now, if I can only learn to tune and play it!!

Four days after my arrival in Thailand, we took a 70 minute flight to  Sakon Nahkon, capital of a state in North Eastern Thailand not far from the Laos border. This second conference was for an annual meeting of the computer service directors from all Thai Universities, held at Kasetsart University an Agricultural University. We attended the opening ceremony, wore our VIP badges, but the proceedings were in Thai, so we didn’t add much and spent the afternoon touring the rice, cotton and forestry test plots at the University.

That is when suffering struck!  A small discomfort in my stomach soon turned into a now becoming too familiar acute gastritis attack. The next 48 hours were spent retching and moaning about the suffering in my miserable life.  My hosts were very understanding and I was visited by a pharmacist and a physician and was relived from having to give my second lecture of the trip.

The Lord Buddha, had indeed taught me a lesson about suffering!

I recovered, though still a bit sore, for a two final days of touring, notably to the beautiful temple on the banks of the historic Mekong River. On our final day we visited  Ban Chiang World Heritage site, where evidence of brass and iron tool production from as early as 5500 years ago has been discovered – causing historians to rethink the Euro/African/Chinese centric view of early bronze age tool development.

We visited probably over 10 temples, all of which were very ancient, in very active use, or both. Orange robed monks were much in evidence in both towns and in the rural areas. Buddhism is a part of the day to day to lives of nearly everyone, as evidenced by the shrines in the yards of most houses. The monks, whose daily food is acquired each morning from the people and must be consumed by noon, treat this ‘begging’ as a gift to the people that allows them to earn good karma.

As expected the numbers of poor people, crowded cities, traffic jams and heat (for Canadian in January) were a bit much, but what stands out for me about this trip is my lesson on suffering, and the incredible kindness, constant smile and palms together greetings and gifts of the incredibly generous Thai people.

“Connectivying” your course

December 18, 2012

The article that Jon Dron and I published in IRRODL

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. International Review of Research on Distance and Open Learning, 12(3), 80-97.

And the follow up at:

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2012). Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012/2.  Retrieved from

have gotten generally positive, feedback  and download numbers, I think largely becuase these ideas provide a bit  of a meta theory to describe and understand the different pedgaogical models currently practiced on the Net.  We have a very pragmatic focus in life and research and thus  we conclude the chapter by arguing ”that all three current and future generations of DE pedagogy have an important place in a well-rounded educational experience. ”

Most online courses today are based on cognitive behaviourist pedgaogy (think lots of self-paced training and scalable MOOCs) or on social constructivist paradigms (think LMS, paced course), with a focus on group building in student cohorts of  less than 30 students per section. I outline below various learning activities which can be used to augment/enhance either of these generations, in practical ways, using connectivist ideas.

Two of the defining characteristics of connectivism are that the learning occurs through construction, annotation and maintenance of learning artifacts. A key characteristic of these artifacts is they must be persistent and be open, such that they contribute to knowledge, beyond the temporal or geographical boundaries of the learning group or course.  The second critical element is that students be given opportunity, incentive and support to form networks that may (or may not) persist beyond the course, or with others not in the courses. These two qualities, open artifact persistence and networking opportunity, are for me the primary affordances of connectivist pedagogy.

Connectivying a Cognitive Behaviousist Course

Good CB based courses have clear behavioural outcomes and can and do work well for  individual learners or in groups. In practice, a growing number of such courses have LMS support with options for group work, but these are rarely  used effectively. The web can be used to create a very effective publishing, administrative, marking and assessment tool set, as exemplified in modern LMS. However, artifacts created by students are rarely persistent nor open and networking opportunities are often marginalized if in existence at all. Meeting the requirement for an open and persistent archive creation can be fairly easily done, merely by having students work cooperatively or individually on new or existing artifacts. Some that come to mind are editing Wikipedia articles, creation of pod casts or YouTube type videos, building presentations and content into tools such as VocieThread, curating content or recreating course contents (in groups or individually content on set like tools such as Piinterest or Learnist.  Networking opportunities can be afforded through the creation of these artifacts or as simply as creating compelling asynchronous communication opportunities. I focus on asynchronous, because of the flexibility and capacity to run through multiple sections of a course, but of courses real time web conferencing WITH recording available asynchronously and opportunity for students to annotate and comment on the recording can be used as well. These resources should be left open to at least graduates and future iterations of the course, but they can have additional value if opened and welcoming of professionals or others  interested in the domain of study.

There are obvious privacy and exposure issues to be dealt with when “connectivying a course, so student control of openness is critically important. However, it is equally as egregious to constrict the capacity for students to share openly. What is most  important is the emergent learning that can result from increased network presence and resulting increase in social capital.

Connectivying a Social Constructivist Course

Social Constructivist (SC) pedagogy stresses the collaborative construction and validation of knowledge, so in many ways requires a less vigorous re-make to include connectivist learning activities. The SC courses are based on a group model and have a wealth of tools available within modern LMS to support this model. Indeed Moodle claims to be based on SC theory, but frankly, most of the other LMS systems provide very similar tools and educational paradigms. Making open, accessible and persistent artifacts is relatively easily done, but they must not be hidden behind a firewall or password, where even students in other cohorts are not allowed to view and build upon these artifacts. Once again, using the tools and contexts described above for CB tools can be an effective way to add persistence and openness to artifact construction. Most repositories and web 2.0 tools, allow for licensing of artifacts using any one of the Creative Commons licences (CC-BY – attribution only) being the most open and generally most connectivist friendly – though arguments have been made by Stephen Downes and others about the enhanced value and freedom of (CC-BY NC- SA) Non Commercial, & Share Alike  that restricts commercial use and requires similar open licensing)

Adding a networking capacity requires moving beyond the closed group. The commercial social networks such as Facebook or Linked in and Ning are continuously adding network and group features so as to enhance visitor use of their services, but institutionally hosted systems such as WordPress Buddy,  Drupal, open LMS systems or the ELGG based system that we have developed at Athabasca (https://landing.athabascau,ca) can all be effectively used to support emergent networks. Once again inherent challenges with privacy can arise and again, the only effective solution is to allow students to control permissions, not at the level of generic publication (like all blogs) but at the level of individual post or contribution. However, very liberal and open access is the ‘gold standard” using one of the previously note CC licenses. However, some students may have very legitimate reason for limiting their networked presence and these should be respected and accommodated.

Interaction Equivalency

An avid reader might note that the advice above tends to contradict the 1st theorem of my Interaction Equivalency Theory namely:

Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.

This implies that one can still learn without enhanced interaction (that grounds connectivist pedagogy). I still believe this to be true. People can and do learn in a very broad array of models, models, contexts and personal inclinations. However the second theorem posits that:

High levels of more than one of these three modes (os student-student; student-teacher, student-content) will likely provide a more satisfying educational experience, though these experiences may not be as cost or time effective as less interactive learning sequences.

The cost issue, I wrote about when I crafted these ideas in 2003, has been reduced exponentially. Students and can do engage in advanced forms of all three types of interaction, with very low to non existent additional cost to any web based course. Further, continuing research shows the importance of time on task and commitment – often related to motivation. For many, social networking provides the essential glue to a course that enhances completion rates and program persistence. Thus, the efforts for “connectivying” a course may well increase the quality of the course, without grossly inflating the costs or time commitments – of teacher or student. If they do increase the time required, students may be the biggest beneficiaries.


The Net continues to evolve and spin off new tools with new affordances and opens adjacent possibilities for both learners and teachers. As perhaps the most important rationale for connectivying is  for life-long learning capacity and capability.  Connectivying a course empowers, exposes and trains students to be more effective and more literate network citizens. Enhancing such capability allows our students to be more resilient and become as Nassim Taleb (2012) .says – antifragile!

“The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.

MOOC pedagogy and accreditation

November 13, 2012

Most of the cacophony of comments and posts about MOOCs and their disruptive potential has focused on their free cost to students, high enrolments, superstar teachers and high prestige Universities.

Relatively little has been published, much less researched, about MOOC pedagogy. A thoughtful article by C. Osvaldo Rodriguez in EURODL mapped the evolution of the so called cMOOCs to connectivist generation of pedagogy that Jon Dron and I wrote about in IRRODL.  Conversely, given the focus on measurable outcomes and dissemination of content, it isn’t too much a leap to suggest (as Rodriguez’s does) that most of the big name xMOOCs are following the mass education model pioneered by open and distance education institution which we referred to as first generation, cognitive behaviourist pedagogy.

But putting labels on delivery models, doesn’t really lead us forward, unless we are also brave enough to venture into issues of effectiveness. However ontological differences between the models make comparisons based on effectiveness challenging. It is easy for traditional and constructivist pedagogues to jump to arguments about educational effectiveness that have at their root, notions of intense interaction with teachers or at least with peers. Of course with 100,000 students one has to change normal definitions of “intense interaction” to even begin to argue about effectiveness from a social-constructivist perspective.  Thus, most social constructivists focus on the opportunities for peer interaction and point to the emergence of meet-ups and online study groups as spontaneous evidence of MOOC effectiveness. I see these as a capacity, but in my experience of adding or even encouraging optional opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction, it doesn’t lead to much take-up  (beyond those exchanging telephone numbers with potential romantic partners).  However, with 100,000 students even a take up of a few percent is not insignificant and may be life-changing for some learners. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Access Week Update

October 11, 2012

This year, Athabasca University will again be celebrating Open Access Week, with a series of free and ‘open’ noon hour (MDT) web casts.

The theme for the 2012 Open Access Week is “Set the Default to Open Access”.  Athabasca University is proud to participate in its fourth international Open Access Week, between October 22-28, 2012 to broaden awareness and understanding of open access issues.

This event is sponsored by the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Open Educational Resources (OER), Dr. Rory McGreal and Athabasca University/ The format consists of a series of noon hour webcasts exploring major issues and opportunities of Open Access and Open Educational Resources. Each session will feature an internationally known promoter and developer of open educational resources, research, or ideas.

For more information, visit or contact Tony Tin at [email protected]

  • Monday, October 22nd OER and Mobile Learning Dr. Rory McGreal The OER university: A sustainable model for more affordable education futures Dr. Wayne Mackintosh
  • Tuesday, October 23rd Open Access and Public Policy Dr. Frits Pannekoek
  • Wednesday, October 24th “Open and Closed” Getting the mix right. Who gets to Decide?? Dr. Jon Dron Dr. Terry Anderson Dr. George Siemens
  • Thursday, October 25th Integrating openness in course design Dr. Cindy Ives  and Much Open Online Content (mooc) Mr. Steve Schafer
  • Friday, October 26th Sleeping with the Elephant – Leveraging AU’s Position through Open Courseware Dr. Martin Connors Contribution of AU’s e-Lab initiative to Open Access and OER Development Dr. Evelyn Ellerman Athabasca River Basin Research Institute Repository: Enhancing open access, education and research Dr. Lisa Carter

I hope to ‘see’ many of you there.

on edited book chapters

September 24, 2012

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to think about authoring and editing contributions to edited books. In this post, I’ll releate these incidents and then try to draw some conclusions.

1. Olaf Zawkler Richter and I have been working for the past 16 months on an edited book tentatively titled Towards a Research Agenda in Online Education. The chapter topics were chosen through a  systematic examination of the top issues in the distance education literature during the past decade. We then contacted the “grandest guru” in each of these research topics and asked them to write a chapter summarizing the issues and outlining a research agenda in that area. Of course, they weren’t all willing to do so- no coincidence that the most accomplished people are also the busiest!. But we were very pleased with the list of authors who agreed to author a chapter for us. Of course they didn’t all come in on the due date, but we  were pleased with the results. Olaf and I edited each chapter and each was sent back for revisions, and soon the book was ready for a publisher.

Both Olaf and I were committed to publishing in an open access press and  perhaps this choice of publisher influenced the the high participation rate of our ‘gurus. Thus. we choose Athabasca University Press for submission. The manuscript was reviewed internally and then sent for external review. Last week (about three months later) the reviews came back. One of the reviewers was particularly hard on some chapters and his comments were described by one of our authors as “boorish and ad hominem”. Nonetheless they were useful and will result in edits to most of the chapters.

So hopefully in the New Year, I will be announcing the availability of this book through AUPress. Read the rest of this entry »

OpenAccess Week at Athabasca

September 20, 2012

Next month Athabasca will (for the fourth year) be participating once again in Open Access week. The screen shot below  details the events during the week. Every noon hour (Mountain Daylight Time) we present Athabasca scholars – and this year even our President!  The sessions are webcast using Adobe Connect, recorded and are open to all and no charge.

Open Access week is coordinated by the Scholarly Publicating and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) with many sponsors and collaborating partners. It is encouraging to see the growing interest in OERs from around the world.

Please circulate these links and we look forward to communicating with you online Oct. 22-28.


Interesting network analysis of a c-Mooc

July 25, 2012

Thanks to Stephen Downes for this link on OLDaily to a short 15 second video from CBlissMath  illustrating the connectivity of participants in a c-MOOC. In this case the MOOC was CMC11, which described itself as a connectivist MOOC that focuses on sharing and building knowledge on connectivism and PLE’s. Unlike x-MOOCs such as sponsored by CoursEra, MITx and others, c-MOOCs (origionally designed by Downes, Cormier and Siemens) explicitly focus on the development of networks of participants and objects(see Rodriguez for more on c and x- MOOCs).  The x-MOOCs seem to follow a content centric model that some would call an instructivist pedagogy (or what Jon Dron and I referred to as Cognitive-Behaviourist pedagogy, in an IRRODL article from last year).

However what the video using Gephi network software illustrates is the large number of totally unconnected nodes that seem to make up the majority of the MOOC participants. Now, I realize there is some limited value to the participants of being a 100% lurker (I’ve done it myself on more than one MOOC), but it is especially ironical when the c-MOOCs, focused on connectivty, seem to demonstrate less connectivity (or at least engagement) than the x-MOOCs – especially if one counts as engagement submission of assignments or exercises to be marked by machines. I’ve long argued that such learner-content interaction can (and often is) a critical and if done well, a perfectly satisfactory form of learning  and ca even be considered equivalent to other higher costs forms of learning (see our Interaction Equivalency site)

In a recent post Phil Hill identified four barriers that MOOCs have to overcome – one of which was high drop out rate. Daphe Koller co-founder of CoursEra has argued  in an Inside Higher Ed post that “The [students] who drop out early do not add substantially to the cost of delivering the course,” she says. The most expensive students are the ones who stick around long enough to take the final, and those are the ones most likely to pay for a certificate.” So in both models of MOOC (as evidenced by the ;’massive’ in the acronym) adding a few hundred or a few thousand non participating students is easily done at extremely low cost. This does however demonstrate accomplishment or learning.

But distance educators have for decades struggled with ways to interpret high drop out rates associated with most forms of distance education. We have rationalized that “the student got what they wanted, even if they dropped out”, blamed the students for not being committed or being deficient in a variety of academic or personal skills or aptitudes, and made excuses about the definition of drop out (as compared to campus students). But it does raise the issue of personal as well as financial costs. Do non-engaged participants walk away with a sense of personal failure, a conformation of their not being smart enough to take a course, guilt that they hadn’t “made the time” or expended the necessary effort,  or did they indeed get what they paid for (in the case of MOOCs,  nothing!).

Lots more research needs to be done, but undoubtedly these demonstrations of scalability, unmatched since the impressive efforts of the Open Universities in the 1980′s, are hopeful signs that evidence a potential solution for the greater than inflation cost increases in higher education that we have seen for the last twenty years. However, lets not ignore the decades of research on drop out that these same open universities and distance education scholars have been gathering to insure that we are not just inventing more options for those minority of gifted and privileged students who can and do succeed under any form of higher education.

New Issue of IRRODL- Hits the online streets

June 26, 2012

We are pleased and proud to present you with a large new issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. This issue contains 16 research articles and two book reviews from 11 different countries.

I wish to thank each of the authors for sharing the results of their work and their thinking with us. I would also like to thank our reviewers and our managing editor for the work they put into creating IRRODL for us. Finally, as always, thanks to our sponsor, Athabasca University.

You may have noticed the new feature on the Google Scholar page that provides “Metrics,” a calculation of an H factor (a measure of the number of citations per article in the journal) that is a proxy measurement of the influence and prestige of a journal. Check it out. IRRODL does quite well, compared to other journals in our field.

Finally for those in the Northern Hemisphere, our best wishes for a relaxing and rejuvenating summer.

Terry Anderson, Ph.D.


International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

Vol 13, No 3 (2012)

Table of Contents


Editorial: Volume 13, Number 3 HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Terry Anderson i-iv

Research Articles

Odyssey of the mind: Social networking in a cyberschool HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Michael K Barbour, Cory Plough 1-18
Motivation levels among traditional and open learning undergraduate students in India HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Shashi Singh, Ajay Singh, Kiran Singh 19-40
Development and validation of the Online Student Connectedness Survey (OSCS) HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Doris U Bolliger, Fethi A Inan 41-65
Quality assurance in e-learning: PDPP evaluation model and its application HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Weiyuan Zhang, Yau Ling Cheng 66-82
Creating a sustainable online instructor observation system: A case study highlighting flaws when blending mentoring and evaluation HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Marthann Schulte, Kay Dennis, Michael Eskey, Cathy Taylor, Heather Zeng 83-96
Mapping the interplay between open distance learning and internationalisation principles HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Pumela Msweli 97-116
Economies of scope in distance education: The case of Chinese research universities HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Fengliang Li, Xinlei Chen 117-131
Teaching time investment: Does online really take more time than face-to-face? HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Rebecca Van de Vord, Korolyn Pogue 132-146
M-learning adoption: A perspective from a developing country HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Shakeel Iqbal, Ijaz A. Qureshi 147-164
The development of distance education in the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Olaf Zawacki-Richter, Anna Kourotchkina 165-184
Delivery of open, distance, and e-learning in Kenya HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Jackline Anyona Nyerere, Frederick Q Gravenir, Godfrey S Mse 185-205
Learning in educational computer games for novices: The impact of support provision types on virtual presence, cognitive load, and learning outcomes HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Claudia Schrader, Theo Bastiaens 206-227
Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Florence Martin, Michele A Parker, Deborah F Deale 228-261
A preliminary examination of the cost savings and learning impacts of using open textbooks in middle and high school science classes HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
David Wiley, John Levi Hilton III, Shelley Ellington, Tiffany Hall 262-276
Using self-efficacy to assess the readiness of nursing educators and students for mobile learning HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Richard F Kenny, Jocelyne MC Van Neste-Kenny, Pamela A Burton, Caroline L Park, Adnan Qayyum 277-296
Identification of conflicting questions in the PARES system HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Avgoustos Tsinakos, Ioannis Kazanidis 297-313

Book Notes

Book review – Quality assurance and accreditation in distance education and e-learning: Models, policies and research HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Kay Shattuck 314-318
Book review – The publish or perish book: Your guide to effective and responsible citation analysis HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Michael Barbour


Open Access Publishing

May 29, 2012

Thanks to our colleagues at University of Leicester, all of the recordings from tthe Follow the Sun 2012 online conference are now available for viewing and for embedding into blogs or web sites.

Below is the talk, with powerfpoint slides, that I presented on Open Access Publishing.


video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player