That was the year that was for online learning: thank you and goodbye, 2014

December 19, 2014 Tony Bates


Well, where on earth did 2014 go? It seems as if it’s only just started!

What I did in 2014

2014 though is a significant year for me, because I decided to stop taking paid contracts from April (in principle, at least). As a result, I haven’t been as engaged with the Canadian post-secondary system as previously (19 institutions in 2013), and since starting on my open textbook in May, I haven’t been keeping up and blogging about new developments in online learning as much as in previous years.

However, I have done quite lot to track down recent research publications for my book, and I did get to visit/do work at seven universities during 2014, five in Canada and two in Europe.

I was also a keynote or rapporteur at the following conferences:

  • The EDEN conference, Oxford
  • Canadian Association of University Boards of Governors, Ottawa

I also gave webinars for:

  • Alberta Upgrading
  • Universidad de Buenos Aires Faculty of Engineering

Lastly, I’ve just completed my part of the review of online course and OER proposals for the Council of Ontario Universities.

And did I mention I’m writing an open textbook?

So I’m not completely out of touch yet.

What you were interested in in 2014

Since data analytics are all the rage, let’s use WordPress statistics to see what got your attention in 2014.

Altogether, the site got just under 300,000 views, or just over 800 a day, in 2014. Here’s how these figures break down.  (I’ve not included stuff like home page visits, my biography, etc., and I’ve only included the top 20 other posts)


Recommended graduate programs in e-learning (2008) More stats 16,715
The world’s largest supplier of free online learning? (2012) More stats 12,606
2020 Vision: Outlook for online learning in 2014 and way beyond More stats 9,165
What Is Distance Education? (2008) More stats 8,862
Time to retire from online learning? More stats 6,463
Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance? (2009) More stats 6,394
What’s right and what’s wrong about Coursera-style MOOCs (2012) More stats 4,170
Learning theories and online learning More stats 3,924
Why lectures are dead (or soon will be) More stats 3,787
Stephen Downes’ overview of e-learning: and a little history lesson (2012) More stats 3,194
E-learning quality assurance standards, organizations and research (2008) More stats 3,191
A short critique of the Khan Academy (2012) More stats 3,039
More stats
The role of communities of practice in a digital age More stats 2,545
Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 7: Design course structure and learning activities More stats 2,337
A student guide to studying online (2012) More stats 2,321
Does technology really enhance the quality of teaching and learning? (2009) More stats 2,066
Does technology change the nature of knowledge? (2009) More stats 2,062
Is Athabasca University moving away from tutoring? More stats 2,039
Nine steps to quality online learning: introduction (2012) More stats 2,013

What does this tell me?

Students need independent advice on online program quality

The first two posts, plus, ‘Can you teach real engineering online?’, and ‘A student guide to studying online’, reflect the fact that many learners/students use the site. (The world’s largest supplier of online learning is From the many comments they post to these sites, these readers are looking for some kind of quality assurance about potential online programs. It’s sad that they come to my site, because I can’t and don’t want to act as some kind of rating agency for online programs. However, the comments on these posts do eventually form some kind of crowdsourced quality assessment. There’s obviously need for a good app for collecting together student reviews of online learning programs, so long as the site is independent of commercial pressure.

The site is acting as a open resource site for online and distance education

Yes, I’m running an OER, and I never knew! About two-thirds of the most frequently accessed sites were posted more than a year ago, but they are still attracting a lot of traffic, suggesting that these are resources that have enough staying power to meet an ongoing need for information. (This could also be interpreted as not posting enough attractive posts in 2014.) I hope my interpretation is correct, because the main objective of the site is to be a useful resource for those designing online courses.

Is interest in MOOCs declining?

Even though there were a good number of posts on my site about MOOCs in 2014 (including a comparison between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and an analysis of the strength and weaknesses of MOOCs), none of these made the top 20. My retirement post, which included a rant about the hype around MOOCs, obviously hit a nerve. However, my 2012 post on Coursera still attracts a lot of traffic, as does my 2012 post on the Khan Academy. It may also be too early to come to this conclusion. It takes time for a post to build solid numbers, and most of my MOOC posts came relatively late in 2014.

My open textbook is on track

Three of the top posts were for my book (‘Learning theories and online learning’, ‘Why lectures are dead’ and ‘The role of communities of practice’), despite all these being posted in the latter half of the year. In addition, three of the nine steps to quality learning (which will feature in the book) were also in the top 20.

What are my main takeaways from 2014?

These are drawn from both my contact with post-secondary education in 2014 and the blog analysis.

1. Blended/hybrid learning is the future for campus-based universities. However, this will mean redesigning teaching (and learning spaces) to make the most of the campus experience.

2. We are demanding too much of faculty. Not only must they be subject experts and top researchers, they must also now be experts in teaching methods and learning technologies. One of the most insightful comments I heard in 2014 came from Marti Cleveland-Innes, who pointed out the difficulties of achieving the ‘complete’ faculty member. This means we need to totally re-think the approach to faculty development, including:

  • putting more emphasis on pre-service training, so that teaching as well as research are part of the requirements for appointment, tenure and promotion
  • increasing the ‘teaching’ track for promotion for those that want to focus on teaching, rather than research
  • moving much more to team teaching, with clearly defined roles for senior research faculty, lecturers (tenured and adjunct), and teaching assistants, as well as instructional designers. This of course needs to combined with the redesign of teaching
  • getting rid of the current, voluntary in-service faculty development model. This may work for a very small number of faculty, but it cannot cope with the institution- and program-wide demands that new technology and new teaching methods require. Replace it with a systematic approach to in-service training linked to academic planning and institutional change

3. Expect a continued rough ride for open educational resources in 2015. The problem remains adoption and application, rather than creation. This is not a criticism of OERs, but of a system that rewards competition rather than collaboration. However, slow progress is being made (open textbooks in BC and institutional use of OERs created by their own faculty in Ontario).

4. Cost remains a major challenge for the post-secondary education system. It is time to look at how to reduce costs without jeopardizing quality, by the intelligent use of technology. This means making some key institutional changes such as reviewing faculty teaching loads (more courses, smaller classes), reallocation of resources to teaching from other areas, in particular operations (less campus, more online) and research (fewer research faculty and more teaching faculty). If we don’t do this we won’t get the teaching methods that will produce the knowledge and skills our graduates need in the 21st century.

So to all my readers, thank you for bothering when you are all so busy, and have a wonderful holiday season, free from log-ins! I will continue to blog but you can catch up in the new year.

Previous Article
Interactivity and the choice of media
Interactivity and the choice of media

I hope you had a good holiday break. This post from my draft for my open...

Next Article
Using time and space in online learning
Using time and space in online learning

This is another post on the characteristics of educational media and...