Continuing Education and Social Networking Combine to Attract Students
Denver - Continuing education continues to evolve, and e-learning platforms presented here at the Educause conference are vying for attention from universities with promises of enhanced engagement of "lifelong learners" and alumni.
Building on Drupal, the open-source content-management system, a company called GoingOn built a platform for a University of Pennsylvania psychology course in the institution's continuing-education program. The psychology department had graduates who had become psychologists who wanted to learn more to improve their professional practice, as well as learners who wanted to improve their lives. Nearly a thousand student took the course, called "Foundations of Positive Psychology." The interface allowed students to form their own "affinity groups" based on topics of particular interest. And the entire platform was able to draw student information from Moodlerooms, also built on open-source applications.
"That means we are cheaper than proprietary alternatives," says Jon Corshen, CEO of GoingOn.
But better? Epsilen, another e-learning platform built around social networking, just announced a partnership with SunGard Higher Education to draw on student information in a similar way. The Epsilen environment also lets faculty members use online material from The New York Times both for assignments and to promote discussion. Felice Nudelman, executive director of education for the Times, told the story of a professor of international affairs who left his Epsilen group open after the class finished and final grades were posted. Months later, there was a spike in online activity and discussions. Students were watching the Olympics, and had started discussing the athletic competition in the context of the international-politics issues raised during the class.
Maintaining student connections to the university is something of great interest to institutions as they struggle with new models of education that transcend campus boundaries but cost money to produce. Vendors such as these are eager to sell what they call "solutions," but it will be up to the universities to decide what is really worth it.