At a time when UK university places are seeing record demand and applications submitted by older students are increasing, it seems likely that over the next few years a typical campus will be made up of an even more diverse mix of ages than it has seen in the past. Recent UCAS data highlights just how many older people are applying, with an 18 percent rise of applicants aged 25 and over – this has bumped the overall number of extra students competing to get into UK institutions by another 50,000 compared to last year.
Although this sudden influx of students is no doubt set to strain our recession-hit universities even further, as well as making the application process even tougher for those who a few years ago would haves secured a place with ease, I see this as a very good thing for education as a whole – and a good opportunity for the UK’s HE institutions to adapt to the needs of a wider variety of students and developing technologies.
When we discuss e-Learning, adult education or distance courses – if we are not describing its successes we are usually talking about issues that people come across when embarking on such an endeavour. Steve Wheeler (from his blog: steve-wheeler.blogspot.com) is aware of this and decided to ask his Twitter followers what they thought the primary issues with, specifically, e-Learning were. What inspired this particular article is the response from one follower in Liverpool who argued ‘that integrating e-learning into the mainstream (and perhaps losing the ‘e’ that distinguishes it)’ was important. A notion that got me thinking.
Surely then, 2009 and 2010 may well be the year that we really begin to see this happen. E-Learning is ear-marked for further funding in light of the 40th anniversary of the Open University, and additionally, the greater reach of online lessons where physical class space and accommodation doesn’t have to be considered will no doubt become more important for institutions and students alike.
At the same time, I can’t help but imagine that the notion of ‘adult education’ as opposed to just ‘education’ is on its way out also – and it is e-Learning technology which is having a hand in that too. Online education is changing the way in which the individual student interacts with the college in two ways, the first: by offering a flexible, individually fitted, means to accessing information and the second: by providing open content (i.e. texts created by institutions but that are available to all). Consequently, once e-Learning does become “mainstream” I envisage a learning environment that has absolutely nothing to do with the age of the student, and everything to do with that innocuous vowel – though I’m sure we will have forgotten all about it.