Recently I was asked what effect e-learning would have on Australian universities. This was for a symposium planned for later in 2012.
In my view, the e-learning transformation is already well under-way. I have been designing and delivering on-line postgraduate courses for the Australian Computer Society and the ANU since the beginning of 2009. About that time I stopped giving conventional "lectures" and gave up setting paper based "examinations". More recently I adapted some of this material for an on-line evaluation process to assess the skills of professionals applying to work in Australia.
There is a free Innovation in Education Showcase in Canberra, 18 to 21 September 2012, where I will be discussing I will be discussing e-learning course design.
Universities need to re-skill their teaching staff in e-learning techniques and provide the technical infrastructure to support it. This process is already well under-way for coursework and I am currently investigating how to apply it to research supervision for doctoral degrees.
Moving courses on-line provides the opportunity to redesign them in the light of recent research into what is effective education. Much of what university lecturers do now wastes their time and that of the students. We can transform university education, not so much through use of computers, but simply better education.
Within the next ten years, most university courses will move on-line. But many students will still go to a campus: to work in groups and meet with staff, as well as use specialist labs. My preference would be to remove labels such as full time/part time, on-campus/off campus, local/remote, domestic/international from the education process. Instead courses can be designed with all of the content and activities which can be done on-line put on-line. Students will then be free to come to the campus when they need to and when they want to. In my on-line classes, I have a mix of full and part time students, on and off campus, domestic and international and this provides an interesting environment for students to learn from each other.
Australian universities are well into the process of replacing large lecture theaters will small teaching spaces and converting libraries into "learning commons". There are regular conferences of educators and architects discussing the design and use of such buildings.
Much has been made of moves by large US universities to offer free on-line courses. However, free distance education has been a feature of universities for decades, with the UK Open University the best example. The more recent offerings by US universities I have looked at have had very poor quality materials, consisting of just videos of a lecturer talking to slides. This misses the essential point of how education (including on-line education) works: with people engaging with each other, tutors and students, provided with high quality, carefully designed materials.