Jisc Digifest 2021 VR Garden - Screen showing view through VR headset with litter to pick up

Reflection on 2022 and a view to 2023

As 2022 closes, I realise that I have had a busy year and not necessarily kept my reflections posted in a timely manner on my blog. I share a few thoughts on the year that’s been and include a reflection I hope will resonate with colleagues in the online and digital education sector to take into 2023.

In March, I was able to attend my first conference since the pandemic: Jisc Digifest 2022 in Birmingham. My overarching takeaway from the keynotes was a distinct emphasis on ensuring the ‘human’ aspect of education is not lost to digital technologies. If anything there was more discussion about human interactions, the value of communities and enabling individuals to learn in a personalised way, than any focus on technology as a disruptor or as an innovative driver. This is a reflection of many technologies being normalised and perhaps a reflection on pandemic education at a distance requiring a reframing of learning and teaching to the value of relationships, wellbeing and human-centred pedagogy. There was also reference to the online versus on campus dichotomy evident in the political landscape at the time, where fully online education was seen in a negative light, demonstrating a lack of understanding of how various modes of learning open access, improve inclusion and support a lifelong learning economy. 

Throughout the year as a new normal established, there was much talk of how higher education, industry and society at large could sustain the benefits of online education realised during the pandemic. Some institutions are continuing to ride the wave of growth, while others have failed to capitalise on the gains and turn them into sustainable educational provision. The year has shown significant movement of very talented people from companies and institutions for a range of reasons, some by choice and many not. I genuinely wish the best for those who are entering 2023 with uncertainty and to encourage them to draw on their experience, creativity and achievements in new ventures. Several universities are establishing their own online provision at a scale not seen before, so I am hopeful there will be opportunities for both experienced and early career professionals in online and digital education.

One area of online education that I believe has made its mark in 2022 is microcredentials. With the QAA publishing their Characteristic Statement and universities beginning to establish policy frameworks for accreditation, microcredentials seemed to have established their credibility. I was delighted to co-present a lightning talk on this topic at the FutureLearn Partner Forum in London in July with our new Dean for Online and Professional Learning at Leeds. What is driving me is the potential that a mix of online education opportunities could provide for a broad range of learners across so many disciplines. From short courses, various structures to enable ways in to online education and recognise achievement, and full programmes, the key for me is the relationship between programmes of study (not just degrees) and lifelong learning journeys. There is still much work to do, especially in building greater industry recognition, but the (not so new) idea of unbundled sub-degrees is also spurring a period of innovation in programme design. 

At the ALT Conference 2022 in Manchester, one of the break out sessions I attended was from the University of Nottingham on competency based learning design (and I’ve been grateful for follow-up conversations on their development model and student journey approach). This type of innovation is exactly what our sector needs, to push the boundaries of institutional policy and ensure education is relevant for learners throughout their careers. I look forward to the opportunities to collaborate both within my institution and with colleagues across the sector next year on the future of online education.

This year I also stood for a Trustee position at ALT, which is the first time I have put myself forward for such a role. Although unsuccessful, I found it a useful exercise to reflect on my personal and professional values. In particular, how important working collaboratively and inclusively is to me and what I believe forms the basis of considered application of learning technologies and learning design. There is one reflection from earlier in the year, in part a reaction to some of the rhetoric in the sector that conflicted with my values, that I hope to continue to champion in future years:

“In the digital education sector, I would like to spend less time talking about ‘us’ as a group of learning technologists or learning designers, and more time talking about ‘us’ in partnership and what we achieve collaboratively… In my view, sustaining the growth in digital education is about centering the discussion on what we can achieve together. We have a role to bring together everyone involved in education, each with their own discipline expertise, to address institutional, global and social objectives. Let’s learn from each other, invite debate, but ultimately remember we can only do this together.”

September 2022

I feel fortunate to work in an institution fully committed to digital and online education, with a clear long term strategy and experienced leadership with an infectious enthusiasm. I am equally fortunate to work with a great team who have a passion for online education and how they bring their professional skills and knowledge to our projects. As I take my team on a journey of growth next year, I will aim to do so with care, appreciation of our collective experience and above all, enjoyment of our work.





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