Since the previous edition of the International GUIDE Conference, online and distance education has continued to grow and expand. This trend has been shown on a small scale by a survey conducted among GUIDE members and Conference participants this past summer. More and more traditional and open universities have introduced new pedagogical innovations to their courses and have improved their approach to e-Learning.

The 6th International GUIDE Conference, held in Athens in October 2013, attracted over 150 participants from 38 different countries. The submitted researches and studies addressed critical issues such as the reform of national higher education agenda, pedagogical innovation in course design and delivery, higher education in a time of economic crisis and social implications of distance learning.

The ongoing global economic crisis, which erupted in December 2007 and took a sharp downward turn in September 2008, was at the center of many researches and keynotes and focused on its impact on worldwide education. As unemployment of today’s youth is one of the biggest global challenges (nearly 300 million – or one quarter of the world’s youth), education is crucial to improving the situation and connecting graduates with employers, who often complain that they cannot find students with the right skills and competences. It comes as no surprise, then, that the European Commission has proposed a strategy that features a significant increase in the budget devoted to investment in education, research and innovation.

Most of the participants have agreed that ICT technology is a crucial enabling factor in creating innovative, effective and efficient responses to new challenges and emerging university models. There is a strong need for flexible, innovative e-learning approaches and delivery methods.

In the meantime, a veritable earthquake has shaken the foundations of online education since the previous International GUIDE Conference: MOOCs. These Massive Open Online Courses are changing, possibly forever, the way in which higher education courses are taught and followed over the Internet. Many keynotes and presentations, not to mention amicable conversations, tackled this issue and the effects of MOOCs on education.

Despite their strong impact on digital education, MOOCs are an extremely recent addition to the higher education system as a whole. Many experts have agreed that the next few months will be crucial in the development of MOOCs. Until now, most universities have joined the movement without expecting a return on investment, but that might change sooner rather than later. Without a solid, proper business strategy, MOOCs’ unparalleled growth may cease, but they can evolve and become a staple in higher education if they manage to provide top level training on employment related topics and credible qualifications.

Both elements, the role of ICT-based education in overcoming the economic crisis and the thunderous arrival of MOOCs, share one common trait: the need to guarantee and provide a high level of quality (the pillars of which are learning effectiveness, cost effectiveness, institutional commitment, access, and faculty and student satisfaction). Such a shift towards online education in the pedagogical approach and delivery mode cannot be productive unless quality assurance becomes a priority for universities, teachers, course designers and governments alike. In order to do so, institutions should comply with specific requirements concerning all the phases connected to the production of eLearning courses, such as organization, planning, services delivery, monitoring and evaluation, research and development.

In August 2013, a survey was conducted to develop baseline data about the status of online education among GUIDE member institutions. Overall, respondents noted that online learning was an important component of their institutional strategies and that online enrollments were growing quickly. Besides, government and employer acceptance of online education are both increasing. On the other hand, the major barriers identified in implementing online education were cost and technology. Also, the survey identifies the need to ensure that students are supported in respect to having the proper skills and “discipline” required to be a success in online learning. In general, respondents suggested that the future of online learning would include continued growth and more migration to hand held devices.

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