Government and sector-level tertiary e-learning initiatives: An annotated bibliography

Publication Details

This report gives an overview of the literature published between 2004 and 2013 relating to government and sector-level tertiary e-learning initiatives in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Author(s): Peter Guiney, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2014

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.


Key Findings

The key findings of this annotated bibliography are:

  • New Zealand established the e-Collaborative Development Fund (e-CDF) in 2003. The e-CDF improved e-learning systems and the capability of participating institutions, but did not do so for staff and there were no immediate or lasting benefits for the sector as a whole. The e-CDF was disestablished as part of the Government's rationalisation of funding streams in 2008. 
  • The Tertiary Accord of New Zealand involves several polytechnics co-developing and co-hosting e-learning programmes. New Zealand institutions are also involved in MOOCs and other international consortia including playing a leading role in establishing the OER universitas initiative.
  • Australia had fewer government tertiary e-learning initiatives than the other jurisdictions. Australia's Flexible Learning Framework involved the Commonwealth and state/territory governments working with the vocational training and education sector. The Framework was successful in content development, but less so in staff and systems development.
  • Australia has a MOOC consortium run by Open Universities Australia. The Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-learning includes all the New Zealand universities and the University of the South Pacific. That initiative has led to a set of e-learning benchmarking guidelines.
  • In Canada the federal government tertiary e-learning initiatives appear to have all been disestablished. But those operating at the provincial level have lasted longer. For example, British Columbia successfully established a province-wide virtual campus. At a sector-level, the Canadian Virtual University allows students to mix, match, and transfer courses between members.
  • The UK had more government tertiary e-learning initiatives than the other jurisdictions probably because they had a dedicated agency, the Joint Information Services Committee (JISC), to support them. JISC's initiatives included a series of effective practice guides, standards development, managing and developing the JANET network, and a substantial research and publication programme. Other UK government tertiary e-learning initiatives include a code of practice developed by their Quality Assurance Agency and "Learn Direct" which is targeted at the workplace. The UK has a MOOC consortium led by the Open University.
  • In the US, the federal government has dedicated strategies and plans for e-learning and also supports content development. Their inter-state initiatives allow students to study degree-level provision in states outside their home one. While many US state governments have been active in e-learning, Florida, New York, and Texas appear to have the largest number of initiatives – including virtual campuses and a course redesign project.
  • The major difference between the US and the other jurisdictions is the strong involvement of non-government organisations which run national surveys, support MOOC and workplace e-learning initiatives, and provide resources and support for institutional e-learning efforts.
  • The UK government is the only one that has supported a formal OER programme. There are a number of large international OER consortia including the OpenCourseWare consortium, GLOBE, and OER Commons. One of the core roles of these consortia is to act as OER repositories, but they also share and develop materials, knowledge, and expertise.
  • The scale of MOOCs is unprecedented with the three largest consortia (Coursera, edX, and Udacity) having millions of enrolments. Unlike previous online learning ventures, these consortia were established by US elite institutions. Coursera and edX are also partnering with state governments to support their tertiary education efforts.
  • Some commentators think MOOCs will have a large impact on tertiary education because of their ability to 'unbundle' teaching and learning processes and services, provide more customised courses, extend institutional presence and reach, allow economies of scale to be achieved, and make large amounts of detailed data available to support an improvement in learner support, performance, and outcomes.
  • Critics of MOOCs cite the lack of an established business model and revenue streams as well as the lack of accreditation, staff resistance, and the uncertainties about how they would be appropriately quality assured. They also point to the very low completion rates in MOOCs which may not be sustainable. They note that many MOOC learners already hold a degree or postgraduate qualification rather than being new students. A smaller group, while agreeing that there is unlikely to be a large short-term impact, thinks MOOCs are too new for their longer-term effects to be predicted with certainty.

Contact Us

For more information about the content on this webpage, please email the:  Tertiary Mailbox