IDEAS: a new framework for next generation pedagogy

The eLearn Center’s FUTURA (Future of University Teaching: Update and a Roadmap for Advancement) report has just been published! This report was commissioned by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in 2015 as an exploratory study to inform strategic planning for distance teaching higher education institutions. It was coordinated by Lourdes Guàrdia at the eLearn Center, and was written in collaboration with a team from Art of E-learning.

FUTURA identified pedagogical trends and innovations globally, and analysed related institutional examples. The FUTURA report proposes a framework for describing current and emerging practice in teaching in online higher education under the acronym, IDEAS:

Intelligent – Use of technology (e.g., learning analytics and adaptive software) to inform educational decision-making and enhance the learning experience. Both learners and teaching staff are given increased support in effective use of technologies.

DistributedDifferent stakeholders provide different elements of the learner’s learning journey: this is enabled in some instances by partnerships between institutions, and in others by the disaggregation of services within a single institution.

Engaging – Students actively participate in the learning process (e.g., working on projects or generating content); there is also an increased emphasis on teaching enhancement programmes for staff to make teaching more engaging.

Agile – The delivery approach is flexible and responsive to learners’ needs. It includes personalised learning pathways and support, more opportunities for recognition of prior learning, and support for virtual mobility of students in their learning journey.

Situated – Learning and assessment activities are contextualised in the real world. Work-related learning learning opportunities for online learners are expanded, and research projects may include multiple stakeholders from outside the institution.


Source: Witthaus, Padilla, Guàrdia and Campillo (2016, p.6). Image available at:

The FUTURA report provides many examples of institutional initiatives that illustrate these concepts. The eLearn Center hopes that the report will be a valuable guide for institutions, departments and course teams in reevaluating their pedagogical policies, strategies and practices, and planning for the future.

Slides from the FUTURA end-of-project presentation given by Gabi Witthaus at UOC on 20th April, with captivating artwork by George Sfougaras, are available at:



Witthaus, G., Padilla, B.C., Guàrdia, L. and Campillo, C. (2016). Next Generation Pedagogy: IDEAS for Online and Blended Higher Education. Final report of the FUTURA (Future of University Teaching: Update and a Roadmap for Advancement) project. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Retrieved from:


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The culture of innovation as the driving force behind organisations

According to a study by consultants McKinsey, by 2027, more than 75% of companies on the current Fortune 500 ranking will be replaced by innovative firms with disruptive ways of doing business that allow them to launch solutions onto the market more quickly. Other research, such as that carried out by Digital Vortex- DBT Centre, indicates that, in five years time, four out of every ten companies will be kicked out of the rankings due to technological change.

This digital transformation is being led by start-ups bringing new disruptive business models to the table. These are young, innovative organisations characterised by hyper-connectivity and fluid collaboration with and between their users, with an ability to process large amounts of information to understand the needs of their customers and provide them personalised solutions in record time.

These are highly adaptable companies that attach great importance to an organisational structure aimed at empowering the individual and concerned with giving greater sense and purpose to their professionals’ jobs, to bolster their commitment to the company.

In terms of work structure, these are highly adaptable companies that attach great importance to an organisational structure aimed at empowering the individual and concerned with giving greater sense and purpose to their professionals’ jobs, to bolster their commitment to the company. Their models tend to be focused on the leadership and entrepreneurship of each worker as a formula for encouraging innovation and boosting productivity.

The management model of these organisations is in part connected with the values-based management philosophy (S. Dolan, S. García), which states that “people, with their different values, must form the basis of a business’s organisation. This fosters creativity in the resolution of complex problems, incentivises professionalism in a network-based organisation and encourages commitment, learning and creativity”.

We should not therefore be surprised at the efforts of such organisations to focus on strategies that permit the proper definition of their culture and its effective transmission to workers so that they feel identified with and committed to its values.

To keep pace with these new digital businesses, large organisations need to innovate so as not to miss out on the digital revolution. However, according to IBM research, their main obstacle to doing so is not budget- or process-related, but one of culture. To overcome this, as Philippe de Ridder (Board of innovation) notes, we need to propitiate a change in mentality and culture to create innovators.

But what do we mean by a culture of innovation?

A culture of innovation rests on six pillars that make it up dynamically: values, behaviour, climate, processes, resources and success. And it is manifested by a series of aspects that should guide employee conduct towards the cause of innovation in organisations. The application of workers’ imagination, experience and independence in their work activities, as well as leadership actions aimed at promoting them, are some of the elements of this culture.

Some of the dynamics providing support for the culture of innovation are:

1. Values: How management conveys the organisation’s goals, and how it helps to achieve them. For example, if it encourages a culture of accepting failure, to help workers to take risks and explore new ideas for solving problems.

2. Behaviour: How leaders and workers act to achieve innovation goals. How leaders inspire and motivate workers in the search for new, innovative solutions to the company’s challenges, feedback they give on their efforts, the help given to teams to overcome administrative or resource-related obstacles. Also whether people are encouraged to collaborate with each other, creating connections and synergies and sharing information.

3. Climate: There is a need to create an atmosphere that fosters commitment and enthusiasm, one which features a shared common language of innovation and facilitates the taking of risks within a safe environment. There is also a need to promote learning as a philosophy of life and independent and free thought. Providing time for destructured thinking, promoting among workers a sense of curiosity, initiative, research and exploration. The goal is to create a healthy creative tension to enrich competitiveness and debate.

4. Resources: Made up of three main factors: people, systems and projects to foster innovation and training for innovation. Of these, “people” is the most critical one, given its effect on the climate and the values of innovation.

5. Processes: The road followed by any innovations that are developed: for example, funnel or stage-gate project and prototype review and prioritisation processes. They must be systems that permit the rapid gathering, filtering, prioritising, prototyping and developing of promising ideas that may have good acceptance on the market or among customers. The system must permit analysis and clear assessment of compliance indicators for each stage of the process.

6. Success: The extent to which an organisation recognises and is recognised for the success of its innovation and strives to achieve the highest standards of compliance. There are three levels of recognition: external, manifested via customers, competitors and financial results; business, via the innovation model and strategies implemented; and personal, via the satisfaction and assessment of the workers to contribute to innovation initiatives.

As we see in organisations of the and with a future, a culture of innovation must be completely infused within the corporate culture to create more competitive companies, adaptable to the reality of each context, which invest in people and processes, which foster collaboration, experimenting and experience and knowledge exchange flows among their members. In short, organisations that share common values and goals with the people making them up.

For many years now, following the adoption of an open innovation model, all of us making up the UOC community and the innovation management team at the eLearn Center participate in and contribute to boosting this culture to make sure innovation remains, as it has been up to now, a distinguishing mark of our university.



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The UOC’s educational model: the foundation of our teaching and learning processes

The UOC, created close to 20 years ago, has from its very beginnings been characterised by its educational model, a model that is dynamic and flexible, permitting a variety of learning situations that always fit students’ needs. This teaching and learning model embraces all the qualifications offered by the university, thereby guaranteeing its full implementation in any training action it might carry out (subject, formative itinerary, undergraduate, postgraduate and masters).

Given the profile of our students, the majority of whom are actively working adults with a family, the model ensures that they can plan their time and study completely online, while at the same time guaranteeing a skillset inherent in the profession and the ability to apply it in real-life contexts relevant to each qualification’s working environment. The following video shows how this works:

The UOC’ educational model promotes autonomous learning, with teaching support, and contextualised learning in professional situations. This is why it is based on five core areas that make up the learning experience: student’s activities, teaching support, the online community, competency-based assessment, and tools and resources.

UOC’s educational model representation


As a result of the ongoing development of the education world due to the incorporation of Information and Communication Technologies, the model is continually evolving, fuelled by trends in e-leaning arising from research and innovation around the world. However, given that the UOC is a living example of the application of e-learning, it also leverages its own applied research, in addition to incorporating innovations resulting from innovation projects. Teaching and learning products, tools and resources are tested and analysed and transferred to teaching staff to improve subjects.

At the eLearn Center, the results obtained from both research and innovation are gathered and incorporated into the support service that we offer to the UOC’s teaching staff to design or re-design subjects. This support provides accompaniment for teaching staff in both the design and redesign of learning activities and subjects. Depending upon the requirements in question, the most suitable activities, learning methodologies and resources are suggested. Additionally, the educational model team offers a range of workshops, courses and training sessions to update and enhance teaching activities. Similarly, a series of guides and resources are offered to steer and help teaching staff to properly implement the university’s educational model thereby guaranteeing its transfer.

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Envisioning the Future

Almost twenty years ago, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) took a bold step by becoming the first entirely online university in the world. Since then universities across the globe have followed in UOC’s footsteps, and online programmes have become a normal part of the higher education landscape. Today, digital technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for innovative higher education institutions to develop their students as employable, engaged citizens, and to contribute to global prosperity and economic development. In order to prepare for the opportunities and challenges of the future, the eLearn Center organised a Futures Workshop on 22 September 2015, led by Art of E-Learning as part of the FUTURA project. The workshop programme was based on the Future Scenarios workshop resources produced by Universities UK. Participants included members of the eLearn Center and other UOC teams and departments as well as a visiting team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, and team members from Art of E-learning in the UK.

The session started with a warm welcome by Dr Christine Appel, director of the eLearn Center. Brief presentations on employability and work prospects for students in higher education (Wray Irwin, University of Northampton), the future of technology (Jeff Merriman, MIT) and current trends in online and blended education (Brenda Padilla, Art of E-Learning team) followed. Workshop participants then shared their visions for the future of online and blended learning: a future characterised by flexibility, personalisation, openness and social inclusion. They created a list of innovative approaches to teaching in higher education, which included concepts such as augmented reality, the Internet of Things for education, and digital badges. Working in small groups, participants then brainstormed different scenarios for the future of online institutions. Each group developed three scenarios – a good scenario, a bad one and an interesting one. An example of each follows:

One Good Scenario 

Multilingual, cost-effective education is available through automatic, real-time translations. Students using different languages can contribute to forums. Courses have a truly global audience.

One Bad Scenario

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other open education initiatives turn online higher education into a race to provide the cheapest offering. If no one wants to pay for education any more, the quality of academic programmes could decrease due to lack of resources devoted to its development.

One Interesting Scenario

Connections are key. There is a shift from a focus on content to a focus on the learner experience, not only within the classroom but beyond. Instead of assigning most resources to developing software, organisations aim to find ways of integrating software, and of connecting information.

These scenarios have contributed to the ongoing discussion within UOC about future possibilities, opportunities and challenges. The next step for the FUTURA study is to identify examples of innovative teaching practices in online and blended learning as models for a dynamic and sustainable future for higher education. Lourdes Guardia and Gabi Witthaus will be reporting on this phase in the study at the EADTU conference in Hagen, on 29-30 October. We look forward to a stimulating discussion with colleagues from other distance institutions there!


Participants at the Futures Workshop at UOC, 22 September 2015
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The Funnel of Innovation applied to UOC

To manage innovation or to transform business opportunities and challenges into solutions, companies and organisations tend to use some variant of what is known as the Funnel of Innovation or the Stage-Gate methodology. This model consists of capturing the maximum possible number of ideas which provide a response to one of these opportunities or challenges. The ideas are then subjected to filters and criteria in order to discard some and develop others with more potential. The latter progress through different stages until the relevant innovations are fully implemented.


At the UOC we have adapted the traditional funnel model in accordance with our specific needs. We search for ideas that help us to evolve and improve our educational model through innovations in the application, adaptation or creation of learning technologies. We decide on the criteria and filters to put the ideas into action and we decide on the details of each stage. The UOC has denominated this process APLICA and in practice it is an annual internal innovation campaign. Participants include teachers and management staff from the university and it is now in its tenth edition. In our case, the starting point is some annual challenges defined by the university management team in accordance with the strategic plan.

We search for ideas that help us to evolve and improve our educational model through innovations in the application, adaptation or creation of learning technologies.

The first stage consists of gathering ideas through an application by which any employee can make suggestions and others can comment upon them or volunteer to form part of a future working group. The objective of this dynamic is to gather transversal ideas (between studies and departments), which can be debated and enriched before moving on to the next stage.

The ideas which receive the most support, the most comments or the most volunteers pass to the second stage, where the person(s) who proposed the idea have to write and present a preliminary project proposal which defines the idea further and identifies a working group. Subsequently, the UOC Innovation Commission evaluates the proposals according to certain criteria, for instance the degree of innovation, feasibility and sustainability, the alignment with the initial challenges, and the impact it could have on the institution.

The best proposals are selected to move onto the final stages with prototype development and pilot trials. The final number of ideas to be implemented also depends on the annual budget.

Finally, if the result of the pilot trials meets the target objectives, these prototypes then proceed to the last stage, which is the application of the idea to UOC internally or the external transference to other institutions.

funnel_innovationUOC’s Funnel of Innovation (APLICA)


To give some idea of the volume of ideas generated, last year 72 ideas were received, 19 proposals were presented and 7 projects were selected, for which we are now completing the prototypes. The educational innovations implemented at the UOC using this system (or other similar ones) can be tracked historically, either on the eLearn Center or OpenApps websites.

However, the funnel innovation system is not perfect. When using a system like this it is easy to see that the more ideas there are, the better. So, why limit ourselves to ideas from UOC teachers and management staff? Why not innovate with the entire UOC community? This is the idea behind Innovació Oberta (Open Innovation), a concept we are just beginning to explore. To coincide with the APLICA campaign this year, for example, we will open up a couple of challenges to the UOC students and alumni so they can suggest ideas.

Moreover, we want to share this commitment to Open Innovation and all our accumulated experience from the funnel process with everyone. To do this, we have a new initiative at the UOC called Hubbik, the Hub of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Knowledge in the UOC community, specifically within its service to activate innovation.

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The Map of Applied Research for E-Learning at the UOC

The prime focus area for the eLearn Center is the activation of research in the field of e-learning which generates an impact on improvement and innovation in the set of processes related to the teaching and learning that take place at the UOC. In accordance with this philosophy, far from being an abstract concept, the e-learning applied research is figuratively represented in the form of a map, which builds upon several “territories” defined as the university’s teaching activities.

Far from being an abstract concept, the e-learning applied research is figuratively represented in the form of a map.The creation of a map which collates and organises these activities cannot be based solely on the research subjects and lines, but must also be capable of linking the activity with the processes and teaching activity that take place at the institution. The research map is therefore designed in a matrix structure. On the one hand it covers the diverse research subjects and areas—collaborative learning, time factor, feedback, virtual environments, assessment, learning process, skills, tools, mobile learning, e-portfolios, etc.—while on the other it identifies the different areas of activity which may be affected by this research. These areas, as we shall see later on, are organised into three levels in which the experience of the student is the common thread and which are integrated within one another, moving from the very specific to the very general. They are defined as: Session (N1); Subject or Course (N2); and Degree or Programme (N3). (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1.

Structure of the Map of Applied Research for E-Learning at the UOC

The purpose of establishing these levels is to situate the research activity in relation to the university’s processes and teaching activities with regard to the academic experience of students. Each level described below shows the details of the main elements and processes which may influence or form the basis for a specific research activity.

Level 1. Session

This is the most specific level, which examines the finer details of the learning experience. It concerns the behaviour of a student during a session: when they are connected to the learning environment and their use of any related element (classroom, resources, tools, etc.). It is based on the analysis of the data generated using the so-called N-tuples scheme, which takes into account the user, the access device, time, the service being accessed, the resource on which the service has been executed and the result (in other words, the action performed) in the following areas:

  • Training activity.
  • Academic activity.
  • Personal activity.

At the same time, it allows scenarios to be defined and explained on the basis of 3 coordinates: place (work space, home, public spaces, etc.); time (hours, periods and calendar dates); and the access device (computers or mobile devices):

Level 2. Subject / Course

This refers to the training activity (subject or course) and the learning process which takes place within the temporal scope of a semester. It includes the following areas:

  • The classroom.
  • The design of the course or subject.
  • Assessment.
  • Teaching activity.
  • Communication.
  • Contents and resources.
  • The PLE of the student (informal/external areas).


Level 3. Degree / Programme

The scope of this level is the entire academic life cycle of the student. It includes all the elements which directly or indirectly affect their experience at the university, some of which may be beyond the learning process. It considers the following areas:

  • The academic journey of the student.
  • The organisation and management by the university.
  • The training modalities.
  • The design of the programmes.
  • The assessment and accreditation system.


Thus, the concept of applied research in the form of a map creates a common framework of reference, which different agents can use to guide their activity and to obtain contextualised information about the activity in a dynamic and current format. It is also available to any user on the internet, particularly those in the academic or business world linked to the field of e-learning, as well as specialist media, etc.

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