Overview and thanks – ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition)’

In my first blog posts of 2019, back in March, I was sharing news of the book ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice’ which myself and my good friends and colleagues Bill Johnston and Sheila MacNeill had just had published. Our book was a labour of love, informed by several years of research, dialogue, reflection and practice before we began the book itself.

During the last year I have also been very fortunate to be involved in co-authoring a second book with another good friend and colleague, Professor Frank Rennie of Lews Castle College, University of the Highlands and Islands. Our book Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition) was published by Routledge in the second half of this year, and is a revised and extensively updated edition of ‘Elearning: The Key Concepts‘ (2006) which Frank co-authored with the renowned educationalist Robin Mason.

For myself, in important personal ways, ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’ was a book that was also several years in the making – even if I didn’t realise it until the prospect of authoring the second edition was in front of us. The reason for this is that long before I joined the University of the Highlands and Islands, and came to know and work closely with Frank, I knew and made extensive use of the original edition of the book both for my own personal purposes and also in co-designing and then leading an online Masters programme in blended and online education. The programme, which was (and still is) undertaken by teachers, lecturers, learning technologists and other educational specialists and professionals from around the world, set out to provide a dual grounding in relevant concepts and ideas relating to technology-enhanced learning hand-in-hand with design-based practice applied and evaluated within professional contexts. To this end ‘Elearning: The Key Concepts’, authored by Frank and Robin as an extensive A to Z of established and emerging ideas, approaches, technologies and theories, was an invaluable text for those studying on the programme…as well as those teaching on it!

As the second edition, ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’ follows in a similar vein albeit updated (as you might expect in what is still a fast evolving field) to address developments in practice, thinking and technology that have taken place since the original 2006 text.

Image of cover for the book 'Digital Learning: The Key Concepts'

Cover for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition)’

Back in 2006, which was around about the time we started to develop the programme it helped to influence, I could not have known or imagined that over a decade later Frank would be extending the invitation to myself to co-author the second edition with him. That was and is an honour in itself, but made more so by the privilege to help build upon the original work undertaken by Frank and Robin (with Robin and her research also being very formative for myself, especially when undertaking my PhD on the topic of networked learning and technology affordances back in the 2000’s).

I’m very thankful to Frank for the opportunity to author the second edition with him, and for his patience when outside challenges delayed my own contributions at key points. Collectively, we’re also very thankful for the support of the team at Routledge (including our commissioning editor Sarah Tuckwell) and knowledgeable colleagues who were were kind enough to review the text and offer both suggestions and reviews for the book. This includes the aforementioned Sheila MacNeill, Antony Coombs at the University of Sussex, and Alex Walker at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Below you can find the official synopsis of the book, and the thoughts of our aforementioned colleagues who reviewed the book in advance.

Synopsis for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’

The new edition of Digital Learning: The Key Concepts is the perfect reference for anyone seeking to navigate the myriad of named concepts, approaches, issues and technologies associated with digital learning.Key terms are explained succinctly, making this book ideal to dip into for a quick answer, or to read from cover-to-cover, in order to gain a mastery of how digital concepts fit within the world of education. Fully updated to include important developments in digital practice and technology in education over the last ten years, this book takes the reader from A to Z through a range of relevant topics including:

  • Course design
  • Digital scholarship
  • Learning design
  • Open education
  • Personal learning environments
  • Social media and social networking

Ideal as an introductory guide, or as a reference book for ongoing referral, this quick-to-use and comprehensive guide is fully crossreferenced and complete with suggestions for further reading and exploration, making it an essential resource for anyone looking to extend their understanding of digital practices, techniques and pedagogic concepts.

Recommendations for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’

“Digital Learning: The Key Concepts provides a valuable reference for education professionals, particularly early-career Learning Technologists, academics and teachers getting to grips with the intersection between digital technology and education. The clear explanations give a rapid orientation within the ideas and terminology of this important aspect of the contemporary learning landscape.”

Antony Coombs, Learning Technologies Manager (Technology Enhanced Learning), University of Sussex, UK

“Navigating the constantly evolving digital learning landscape is a perennial challenge for staff, students and indeed anyone involved in any type of learning activity. Digital technologies are providing increasingly diverse ways of permeating the boundaries between formal and informal learning. However, it is essential that everyone involved in learning and teaching has a common understanding of the possibilities and constraints of technology that is based on scholarly research and current effective practice. This updated collection of terms provides an essential compass for key learning theories, concepts and resources for navigating the current digital learning landscape.”

Sheila MacNeill, Independent HE Consultant, Chair of ALT (Association for Learning Technology)

“As someone working in education who is also studying digital learning as part of a postgraduate qualification, this book is invaluable as a quick reference guide for key concepts in digital learning and also key concepts relevant to wider learning and teaching contexts. The definitions have enough information to provide clarification on the concepts covered, but are short enough that I can scan for what I am looking for. The concepts are presented alphabetically, so I can quickly find the definitions of the ideas, issues and technologies I am unfamiliar with. I would recommend that anyone studying or involved in digital education has Digital Learning: The Key Concepts by their side as a reference guide.”

Alex Walker, Professional Development and Recognition Lead, University of the Highlands and Islands, UK

Challenging critically not perpetuating the parochial

I recently posted the following on the Global Dimensions in Higher Education project blog. Given the focus of my own blog here, I’m sure my colleagues on the GD in HE project (@GDinHE) won’t mind me reposting it.globaldimensionsinhe_screenshot

In last week’s Times Higher Education (17-23 January 2013), two articles tackle between them a number of stark realities within the dominant Western discourse around globalisation in higher education. In one, Professor Thomas Docherty presents a broad-ranging consideration that questions the relationship of the university to national culture and community, and draws a sharp distinction between ‘scholarly globalisation’ on one hand and, on the other, the contradiction that centres around the rhetoric of post-national promise versus economic competitiveness.

In the second article in question, Joanna Sugden tackles the recent changes in visa regulations within the United Kingdom and the barriers these are imposing on graduate students from out with the European Union. In short we welcome highly skilled non-EU postgraduate students to study at UK universities, and welcome the substantially higher fees they pay in comparison to their EU peers, but in return require them to find a job with a salary in excess of £20,000 (way beyond in certain circumstances) within four months of graduating to remain in the UK. However the position they secure must be with a registered employer that will support their application for the equivalent of the previous two-year work visa that was automatic on completing postgraduate study.

One message that may be taken from both of these articles is that we may be talking global, but the focus of our thinking is often squarely within the local and national context. It is on our institutions and the socio-political climate within which they exist and are sustained, and on increasing their economic viability and growth. In the case of international postgraduates studying in the UK, the message is clear – you are welcome here while paying a substantial cost to attend university, and to remain if you are fortunate to secure a position with an employer who won’t overlook you in favour of similar candidates who do not require a Tier 2 visa.

If being cynical, and realistic, we might look towards the recruitment of international students to UK and other Western universities, the establishment of campuses overseas, and some forms of the now omnipresent MOOC as being primarily or even purely about institutional competitiveness and survival within an increasingly stretched and crowded global HE sector.

However whilst on one level we must address and critique the globalisation of higher education as a capitalistic pursuit concerned with the movement of educational services across national boundaries for purposes of market gain and competitive edge, we can also look towards what a globalised approach within higher education can offer in pedagogical and experiential terms.

Here we can be more concerned with recognising, exploring and harnessing global and cultural diversity within our curricula and educational practices, so as to provide a richer, more democratic educational experience either on campus or online. In asking why we should internationalise and diversify higher education curricula and pedagogy, Welikala (2011) warns against the over use of the term globalisation “which is increasingly used to mean everything and nothing”, and against neo-liberal ideologies that position higher education as being responsible for “the construction of knowledge economies that will save the world from all its burning problems” (p.24). However in providing a more detailed argument than can be usefully summarised here, Welikala does make many convincing points around what a globally and culturally sensitive ‘multi-perspective curriculum’ can offer in addressing global issues collaboratively, developing rich knowledge and values of respect, and in developing the broader skills needed in a world where cultural identities, the nature of work, and our information technologies are continually evolving.

If we see promise and potential in this kind of education, we also need to be aware of the divisive practices in the globalisation and internationalisation of education that must be challenged. McBurnie and Ziguras (2009) warn against the dangers of ‘cultural imperialism’ in which the establishment of overseas campuses, and the offering of programmes informed by other cultural norms and perspectives, may challenge and undermine the nation building purpose of education. We might be particularly mindful here of ‘deficit model’ practices that are all too common to observe, including the wholesale replication of curricula for delivery overseas, and the ‘flying faculty’ phenomena where by institutions send academics to support (often very experienced) overseas educators in learning how to teach their programmes just as they do. This is often without any consideration given to the weaknesses of their own academic practices, or the strengths and appropriateness of their overseas colleagues’ academic practices within their own cultural and pedagogical contexts. Similarly, in distance learning contexts, we might be mindful of online programmes that are offered internationally but are grounded in assumptions about the field or profession that are culturally exclusive and bounded within culturally narrow fields of view.

Dewey (1916) discussed at length the unavoidable tensions within educational systems between the development of the individual, and sustaining the dominant practices, beliefs, industries, and expectations of the nation state. The tensions are heightened when we consider educational systems that extend across nations and cultures, and perhaps the largest threat to meaningfully addressing global and cultural diversity in higher education is that we uncritically seek to perpetuate our own localised pedagogical assumptions, practices and understandings.

As we move into the next stage of developing and piloting the Global Dimensions in Higher Education module, our challenge will be to ensure we create a space for critical deliberation and reflection on our collective and individual practices and assumptions, for exploring global issues in higher education, and ultimately for asking under what conditions does globalisation in higher education serve a greater good for learners and educators than institutions and states?

Dewey, J. (1916, republished 1966) Democracy and education: An introduction to the democracy of education. New York: Free Press/Macmillan.

Docherty, T. (2013) Globalisation and its discontents. Times Higher Education, No. 2084, 17th-23rd January, pp. 40-43. Also online [last accessed 25.01.13] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=422371

McBurnie, G. and Ziguras, C. (2009) Trends and future scenarios in programme and institution mobility across borders. Higher Education to 2030 Volume 2: Globalisation, pp. 89-108. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Sugden, J. (2013) Home to roost: UK loses its allure as visa rules deter Indian graduates. Times Higher Education, No. 2084, 17th-23rd January, pp. 20-21. Also online [last accessed 25.01.13] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=422371

Welikala, T. (2011) Rethinking international higher education curriculum: mapping the research landscape. Teaching and Learning Position Paper, August 2011. Universitas 21. Also online [last accessed 25.01.13] http://www.universitas21.com/news/details/32/rethinking-international-higher-education-curriculum-mapping-the-research-landscape