EU for high quality learning: Updates from the High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education

You’ve all seen the figures over the past year and more that show high youth unemployment across some European Union Member States. But do people know that technology can have an enabling role in Europe and beyond?

What is the connection between solving youth unemployment across Europe and the role of technology as an enabler? Well, before I get to that, everyone should also know that Europe has not been sitting on the side-lines while so many of our youth are out of work.

On September 18, 2012 the European Commission launched the High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education (HLG), which I also discussed in an earlier post Europe 2020 goals: let’s not underestimate the role of technology. It has been a real honour to serve as the only corporate member of the HLG together with distinguished professors and experts in the field of education or related – you can find their impressive CVs here. Since September, we have focused our meetings on our first set topic: how to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions.

The first report of the HLG will be published later this year, but I wanted to share with you some general threads that I believe are extremely important. These relate to how technology can help improve teaching and learning experiences in Europe’s high level institutions, and ultimately help better prepare our graduates to successfully meet the job market.

Technology is the key driver of major changes in people’s professional and personal lives across Europe and the world. Being connected through technology at work and at home has become a way of life. In fact, more than an agent of change, technology is a great enabler. As I have mentioned before, technology can do three things in education: encourage personalized learning that will fit each student’s learning styles and strengths, make learning EU-wide and globally accessible through Internet and cloud computing, and enable global collaboration among students through communication platforms like Skype. All of these three areas of innovation in education are exciting but I want to briefly emphasize the second one, which was also notably discussed in the HLG’s meetings.

Learning can now be globally accessible and free with platforms like Khan Academy or Academic Earth. Also through cloud computing, many big universities stream live lectures, share online educational materials, and offer online courses, often for free. Offering these online courses for credit but also for anyone who simply wishes to learn and contribute, is an innovative practice increasingly adopted by the best universities in the world. For example, Stanford University offers such online courses. This new teaching model that leverages technology to increase accessibility of education is based on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Here is an example of how a MOOC can be defined:

I believe there are great advantages for higher education institutions across Europe to routinely offer MOOCs. The key advantage is that the teaching and learning experience through a MOOC can be customizable and of high quality, while the geographic location and numbers of students are no longer considered constraints but opportunities to increase diversity among learners. There are many other benefits to offering MOOCs including encouraging people to develop digital skills, or connecting students with similar sets of knowledge or career interests.

However, the key potential and promise of a MOOC is that anyone across Europe and beyond that has access to Internet can have access to high-quality education. I believe that learners and our graduating youth can greatly benefit from this teaching model, and become more empowered and equipped with the right skills to meet the needs in the job market.

I look forward to the HLG’s first report that will be published in the coming months. I am also excited and look forward to the work that remains to be done by the HLG over the next 2 years that will include examining the very important issue of learning in the digital age.

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