Online learning is finally going mainstream: those interested are urged to sign up now to beat the rush

Published: 7 August 2006 at 13:18

140 remotely-based Ultraversity student ‘researchers’ at Anglia Ruskin University have successfully completed their BA Hons Learning Technology Research degree courses to take online learning into the mainstream.

This remarkable achievement by the student researchers was centered on learning based on their very own working practices.  The study programme which sees the researcher combine study with working can take as little as three years to complete which is the same time as the length of a standard degree. Open University courses, by comparison, extend over five to six years when undertaken while the student is engaged in employment.

Ultralab, a learning research division of Anglia Ruskin University, has been working hard to explore new approaches to e-learning as a part of its commitment to expanding access to higher education. The Ultraversity project was set up to directly contribute to this government priority area by researching the delivery of a BA (Hons), Learning Technology Research (BALTR) fully online, undergraduate, work based degree.

This degree programme is aimed at people in employment, in jobs they enjoy and with the opportunity to research and influence their practice. Because of work or family commitments, these people had few opportunities to study through the traditional route of face to face learning. The BA (Hons) LTR offers them the opportunity to study online.

Student researchers not only develop their own skills as problem solvers, but also have a significant impact on the workplace by improving the way they work with colleagues.

This is an example of a successful e-learning initiative that has combined a range of new technologies and ideas to meet the needs of 21st century learners. Increasingly the ‘traditional’ model of university attendance doesn’t always meet the needs of many students and employers; they demand increased personalisation for their studies and about how they make choices for their approach to learning.

The proposition at both Undergraduate and Postgraduate level that someone should take years away from their professional practice with the associated loss of income to attend a University with a curriculum that may be outdated or simply not relevant is becoming less attractive. Instead, this programme focuses on the individual who is supported to develop a personal curriculum with their own relevant objectives that address their particular needs.  They are then helped to develop their own research and lifelong learning skills to study it.

The results of this remarkable group is a testament to the success of the degree programme in meeting the needs of a wide range of potential students currently excluded from Higher Education.

“Everyone knows someone who did not go to University, but wish they did, who are challenged by a busy life and think that the University door is closed for them. Our job is to open those doors, to find ways using technology to enable, enrich and include people, and we're proud of the ground we are breaking with our projects”

says education technology expert, Richard Millwood, the Director of Ultralab.

“We started with a challenge brought to us, as we do with all our projects, and our team of over forty dedicated Ultralab explorers how we could create the widest range of study opportunities, while still ensuring the BA (Hons) LTR degree would still meet the requirements of traditionally taught, degree programmes”.

Ultralab, Anglia Ruskin University’s pioneering learning, technology and research centre has been at the cutting edge of learning through technology for over twenty years. The team has worked on initiatives to reduce everything from headteacher isolation (Talking Heads), television for children by children for the BBC, and right through to their proudest achievement,, the flagship online school to bring back into learning young people who the education system did not fit. 

Notschool has provided learning opportunities for over 1,500 young people, research by the project has found that over 100,000 young people are not a part of the education system in the UK, research.  The valuable lessons from Ultralab's portfolio of projects, including have helped to shape the learning in Ultraversity.

Richard Millwood says

“E-learning can work, and we've learnt valuable lessons along the way, we think our model works well, and the inclusion of the students in the whole process has been critical to our success, and we are proud of what the students have achieved so far together”.

Ultraversity, currently, has enjoyed far more success to date than the failed UK e-University (see editor’s note) which managed to sign up only 900 students from across the UK but not produce a single graduate.

With course fees of £1200 a year Ultraversity has demonstrated that degree programmes of high quality can be cost effective and, crucially, offer opportunities to people who would otherwise have been unable to benefit from higher level education.

Ultraversity undergraduates are called researchers because they research their current job and develop degree level, lifelong learning skills in the process. 

"People who work in a specific industry often don't see, or respond to, the changes taking place around them,"

said Richard Fairbank, Chairman, President and CEO of Capital One Financial.