Special Report: What many Australian universities have is a slide upload platform, but what they need is a rich, engaging learning environment designed purely for online, says OpenLearning CEO Adam Brimo.

Universities have scrambled to transfer courses online since social distancing rules were applied in Australia to prevent the spread of the disease COVID-19.

But many have been working with systems that aren’t set up for modern online learning and won’t provide the engaging learning environment that today’s fee-paying students demand, says one CEO.

“A lot of universities have tried to move online in the last couple of months but have experienced serious quality issues,” OpenLearning (ASX:OLL) chief Adam Brimo says.

“Most of the systems they’re using to deliver online courses are generally classified as learning management systems, and those platforms are fairly traditional.”

OpenLearning provides a platform that allows universities and other higher education institutions to offer interactive and engaging short courses, degrees and micro-credentials to millions of learners worldwide.

But many higher education institutions still use software that tends to focus on the administrative side of education rather than the learning side. This means they can allow lecturers to post powerpoint slides but can’t help lecturers create online-specific courses that engage students.

“Powerpoints and documents aren’t what people are paying for when they go to university. Typically, what they’re paying for is to work on interesting projects, meet new people, learn new skills and think critically. That’s not really what has been happening on a lot of these platforms,” Brimo said.

What they should be striving for is a “really engaging, transformative experience”, he says.

This takes time to design and lecturers must think differently about how they design activities, but with the right platform and the right course design help, which Brimo says OpenLearning provides, it’s highly doable.

The COVID-19 threat and opportunity

With more than half of the country’s 41 universities having shifted most of their coursework to remote learning by mid-March, what has become clear is that many of the country’s top institutions don’t have the tech or the online learning design expertise to deliver the courses they need to convince fee-paying students to continue their enrolment.

Former University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker told Times Higher Education in April that universities had been “caught out like luxury brands have been caught out” because they’d been trading on a prestigious name rather than an intrinsically better product.

About 25 per cent of university revenue in Australia comes from international students seeking, as Brimo said, a high-quality experience and degree.

What we’re seeing now is a lot of institutions who have treated online learning as supplementary to the campus experience run into a challenge because they have to deliver the whole educational experience online,” Brimo said.

“But if you remove the campus experience and don’t significantly improve the online learning environment then students won’t attain the same learning outcomes, and then they’ll start asking why they are paying the same fees.”

For other universities COVID-19 has presented a major opportunity for their international brand, purely because of their ability to provide high quality online courses, such as long-time leaders in distance education, Deakin University in Victoria and Charles Sturt University in New South Wales.


Designing for online

Where higher education institutions need to go now is away from learning management systems and into richly designed courses that can be scaled as needed or rolled out to larger audiences.

Brimo says OpenLearning’s learning design team can work with universities to help lecturers create courses that align with their existing values and teaching styles.

“It’s a process that takes a lot of work and creativity. Our team can step in and provide the learning design expertise and the technology to provide a rich, engaging, project-based course that allows university clients to deliver high quality outcomes.”

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This story was developed in collaboration with OpenLearning, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.
This story does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.