Rethinking Online Education

Looking for job opportunities? Here you go: There is high demand for IT skills and it is growing – everywhere in the world. In Europe alone, 900,000 jobs in the IT field are projected to be vacant by 2020. dad14_logoBut how can you access this field? What knowledge do you need to find a job? How do you prove that you actually have the right skills? No clue? You’re not alone! On 29 September, the European Commission is hosting a workshop on “Digital Action Day” in Brussels titled “Does Europe have the digital skills to succeed?” to address these very questions.

iversity is collecting your questions and answers to present at the workshop. Share your views with us and we’ll report them directly to European decision-makers and other stakeholders from the ICT field. We’ve broken this down into five questions and would really appreciate your input.

So here are our questions:

1. How can Europe address the digital skills needs of all people, taking into account different entry levels?

Skills levels vary dramatically within the European population and across the EU member states. A European strategy to enforce digital skills must take this into account and provide educational measures for all interested learners: university-level courses for students, opportunities for further education for the working population, vocational (re-)training for unemployed people. How can we make sure that Europeans have access to the educational opportunities they need?

2. What skills are actually needed?

Not only the major ICT companies are looking for web talent. The shortage of skilled staff also affects large, small and medium enterprises from other sectors that need network security and database experts, web designers and many other specialists. However, it is unclear which skills in particular will be needed most.
In order to determine the skills that are actually required, a dialogue with stakeholders from the industry is crucial. To that end, the European Commission has launched the “Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs“. Among other action points, industry stakeholders have given their promise to offer vocational training to young people even beyond their own needs and to qualify 100,000 trainees by 2015. What has been achieved in this field so far?

3. How can people who are attracted by a job in digital technology find out about the requirements of the labor market?

And how can they document their study achievements when they acquire new skills? The market for qualifications has a significant transparency problem, and orientation is hard to come by. It is anything but obvious for people who attempt to enter the ICT field to find out which qualifications are needed for which positions, which career paths the digital sector offers and what qualifications employers are looking for. How can we make the demand for jobs more transparent, so that people who are willing to acquire new qualifications can orient their study efforts in the right direction?
Once learners have acquired new skills, they would like to document them – but how? The e-Competence Framework was created in the context of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) with the objective to make qualifications comparable and portable between European countries. How is this being accepted by students and employers?

4. What is the role of digital educational media such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) hold the potential to teach an unlimited number of students, also in the ICT field. Which role can MOOCs and other digital educational formats play in providing the digital skills that are required? In the context of the Startup Europe programme, the European Commission has launched the “MOOCs for Web Talent” network. In a survey conducted with students, developers and entrepreneurs, online courses were identified to be relevant for teaching digital skills. However, the study also identified pain points, such as the lack of proper certification. How can skills obtained online be adequately measured and certified? How can universities and other institutions offering MOOCs be adequately funded and supported to meet the demands of the market?

5. How can we organise a better match of labor market demands and educational curricula?

Given the rapidly changing requirements for skills in the digital economy, we must ensure an efficient transfer between the labor market and educational institutions. How can we better monitor the demand for skills on the job market and orient the supply offered by education providers along these lines? How can reaction times be minimised?
Another fundamental question in this context: Which institutions should be in charge of disseminating digital knowledge and skills? At what stage in educational careers should digital literacy be stimulated/promoted? As early as primary school? Or through specialisation courses in high schools and universities?

We welcome your input to any of these questions! Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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by Inclusive Learning

Whether there be environmental, cultural, physical or mental constraints, everyone has their own way of learning best. If we do not adapt to the needs of learners, many will not have access to effective education. E-learning and online education offer many tools and possibilities for inclusive learning environments and can develop more accessible educational opportunities. We would therefore like to introduce you to the Inclusive Learning project. Below they highlight the needs, possible solutions and call you to join their webinar on 28 August!

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Image: Inclusive Learning Flickr

Inclusive Possibilities in Online Learning

Supported by the European Commission, the Inclusive Learning project aims to provide to Vocational Education and Training (VET) institutions with a solution for related inclusion problems considering two main aspects:
1) Guidelines and a certified training course for Vocational Education and Training trainers to help them address their diverse classrooms (e.g. students with hearing impairments, students with visual impairments).
2) A technological infrastructure for designing, developing, sharing and delivering accessible open educational resources.

Online learning offers students flexibility and control over their learning, which means that given choices and support, materials delivered in this way can be adapted to suit a variety of learning preferences. It also enables Assistive Technologies in the learning process:

  • Access to e-learning, with the digitisation of texts, can be an important element of day-to-day study for visually impaired students, especially those who are dependent on screen reading software.
  • Students can hear text read by synthesised computer voices, or change background colours and fonts, and use magnification.
  • Software programs to aid accessibility include on-screen keyboards with switch access, predictive software programs, and voice or speech recognition systems with macros.
  • If typing is difficult then asynchronous methods of communication may be preferred, such as emailing or posting to a discussion forum. It is important to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration and to maintain good contact with students to avoid feelings of isolation.
  • Students with hearing impairment whose first language is Sign Language may have issues with the written English needed for emails and conference discussions, but that does not mean they should be curtailed, merely adapted using clear and concise language.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are a key answer for a more inclusive learning environment. They are more flexible in terms of the use, reuse and adaptation of materials than the automatic all-rights-reserved status of copyright. Just to mention some key benefits:

  • Open licences seek to ensure that copying and sharing, happen within a structured legal framework;
  • they can ensure attribution so that authors are recognized for their contribution;
  • they are free. Increased online access to OER has promoted individualised study which, coupled with social networking and collaborative learning, has created opportunities for pedagogical innovation.

Open Educational Resources can definitely make a significant contribution to:

  • Development and improvement of curricula and learning materials.
  • On-going programme and course design.
  • Organisation of interactive contact sessions with and among students.
  • Development of quality teaching and learning materials.
  • Design of effective assessment tools for diverse environments.
  • Links with the world of work.

We would like to invite you to know more about Inclusive Learning and Open education resources by visiting the Inclusive Learning Handbook. Please join us with your ideas and opinions.

The Inclusive Learning project is interesting for you if…

You are a teacher: As a teacher, you may want to be trained in the process of designing and delivering accessible training content and courses for all your students. Further, you may share your accessible content and best training practices with other trainers through the technological infrastructure of the Inclusive Learning Project.

You are representing a VET Institution: As a representative of a VET Institution, you may want to be informed about the Inclusive Learning Guidelines that can help you design VET programs by considering different aspects of inclusive design and accessibility. Moreover, you will be able to enroll the trainers of your VET Institution to our certified training course, so as to be trained in the process of designing, sharing and delivering accessible digital training content and courses for people.

You are a policy and/or decision maker: As a policy/decision maker, you can be informed about the project tools and services, as well as the certified training course for trainers of people with disabilities, so as to be further exploited to National VET Systems.

If you want to know more about inclusive learning and discuss with Jutta Trevieranus (Director at IDRC / Co-Director Raising The Floor), Lizbeth Goodman (Smart Lab, University College Dublin) and Eva de Lera (Executive Director of Raising The Floor) about the challenges and future of inclusive learning, join the open webinar on 28 August. You will find all the information and registration form here.

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143631_144035_1_Michelle-Smith-circleby Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from marketing to productivity. Michelle encourages your feedback via email.

Go Green IT for a greener environment.There are countless benefits to participating in online education. It’s convenient as courses can typically be taken at any time, from anywhere. It’s often cheaper than taking courses at a university. You have instant access to just about anything you could possibly want to know, so you don’t have to move across country or across the world to study a subject you’re interested in.

While online education options may be beneficial to you, did you ever consider the impact of distance learning on the environment? As it turns out, conducting your studies online is actually the greenest way to get an education. A UK study found that campus-based courses use 87 percent more energy and cause 85 percent more emissions than online courses. So why is online learning so green?

There’s less paper waste.

Although many universities are embracing the digital age, most require students to turn in hard copies of papers and projects. It results in a lot of paper waste that inevitably piles up in the landfill at the end of the semester. Online learning gets around that because there’s not actually a physical place to turn anything in. Instead, online students can turn in digital copies that eliminate paper waste so it’s better for the environment.

It saves gas.

Every time you start your car, you cause emissions. Just 1 gallon of gas causes 24 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions to enter the atmosphere. Say you use 1 gallon of gas driving to and from your class five days a week. By the end of the week, you would have caused 120 pounds of emissions! If you have to drive farther or sit in traffic, the environmental toll could be even worse. However, if you’re taking courses online, rather than driving to a university, you can minimize your impact. By skipping the daily commute, you’ll save the Earth from those carbon emissions and reduce your footprint. Plus you’ll be able to save money on gasoline costs.

It eliminates building waste.

There aren’t a whole lot of new universities in the world. Most are well-established, with stately, inefficient buildings. Powering these classrooms and dormitories not only costs a small fortune, it’s bad for the environment. Buildings in the United States, including university facilities, account for almost 40 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption, contributing an enormous amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. On the other hand, online learning eliminates the need to have educational facilities, so you can keep your carbon footprint low.

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When I was a child, there was a game I always played with my friends in the swimming pool. The object of the game was to find and tag your friends with your eyes closed. There is only one thing to help you out: you yell, “Marco!” and the others call back, “Polo!”. If you listen close, you can find out where they are in the pool and swim quickly in their direction before they can get away. The legendary tales of his adventures fill children’s books, songs and games, and besides the well-known clothing label, many will hear his name at some point. This week in Great Scholartrips in History, we present Marco Polo, whose journeys in from Europe to China blazed a literary trail across two continents.


Image: Wikipedia Commons

From Venice to China

“I have not told half of what I saw.”

Marco Polo was born into a wealthy family of merchants in Venice, Italy 1254. At the time, the dominant powers of the expansive Khan Empire and the Holy Roman Empire knew little of each other. Venice was the cultural hub of Europe and the Polo family used their wealth in jewels to set out into the unknown east. Marco’s father and uncle travelled to China, which is where they first encountered Kulbai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. After returning to Venice in 1269, two years later, Marco joined them on the trip back to the Mongolian empire. It was the beginning of what would be a 24-year adventure for Marco.

Absorbing all of the new sights, smells, tastes and sounds, Marco sailed the Mediterranean Sea into the Middle East, through Persia (today Iran) and across the great Gobi Desert to Beijing. The Polos did not stop until they reached Kulbai Khan’s court. They would stay in China until 1295, becoming valued diplomats to the Mongolian Khan. It is even claimed that Marco was even given political power in the region. As the 24 years came to an end, the Polos were ready to return, much to the Khan’s reluctance. As they sailed back to Persia, Marco would then see what is Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India today.

But Marco was not ready to retire. He returned to Venice, joined the army and went to war with Genoa. It is here he was taken prisoner and befriended the writer, Rustichello. Marco told him of his great adventures and they put together the book, Travels of Marco Polo (Il milione). The book detailed what he experienced, saw and learned in his travels, and even became a sort of guide for other merchants curious to venture east. The legend was born.

The overlap of legend and truth

Marco Polo’s book is the only source from which to base his journey. His claims fall under much speculation and the story often seems embellished. Indeed, the travels of Marco Polo are filled with brilliant tales and subject to the prejudices and limitations of the western perspective. Some even wonder if he actually made it to China at all – although others believe that his accounts were too detailed to fake. Regardless, he represents the possibilities that come when you venture into the unknown. He opened Venice up to a world that was so little explored and still inspires people with his story. Fact or fiction, travelling gives you new stories to tell. Maybe on your Scholartrip you will document your own stories or use them as inspiration for the next great novel. You could also trace the journey of Marco Polo and judge for yourself whether or not all he retold could be true.


  • Marco Polo. [Internet] 2014. The website. Available from: [Accessed 13 June 2014]
  • Marco Polo. [Internet] 2013. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Available from: [Accessed 12 June 2014]
  • McFarren, Kathleen. 2004. Marco Polo. Minnesota, USA: Capstone Press.
  • Polo, Marco and Paul Smethurst. [2005]. The Travels Of Marco Polo. Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.
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Many of the greatest discoveries have been made by voyaging beyond familiar surroundings. Inspired by the iversity Scholartrip, we are launching the blog series “Great Scholartrips in History”. These men and women did not have a laptop or great online courses to take along, but their journeys would contribute to the world of knowledge. Now with online education, you can study anywhere while making your own voyages across the world. This week we present, Charles Darwin, who developed the theory of evolution through his observations on the open seas.

A young explorer

Portrait Of Charles Darwin
Born in England in 1809, Charles Darwin had a passion for science and nature at an early age. He came from a family of doctors and scientists. Charles didn’t seem to catch on to the study of medicine at the University of Edinburgh, so his father thought Charles would want to pursue life as a clergyman. As part of his ongoing struggle with religion and in resisting this decision, he went to Cambridge to tackle Algebra, Classic Philosophy, and eventually found himself visiting Botany lectures. After several outings, his passion for nature grew and he discovered collecting beetles gave him more pleasure that all other academic activities.

A voyage on the open sea

“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Just over the age of 20, Darwin was an established natural scientist. The year 1831 would bring bring him the most important journey of his life: the Voyage of the Beagle. This great voyage to map out sea routes across the world required a Naturalist on board. Darwin was given the chance to experience the journey of the respected Alexander von Humboldt, and soon found himself dealing with extreme claustrophobia in his small cabin in route to South America. It was on this 5 year trip that he was able to collect animals of all classes, various plants and fossils. The places he visited include the Cape Verde islands, Punta Alta, Tierra del Fuego and of course, the Galapagos Islands. It was also on this journey that he became outspoken against human slavery, after having witnessed the existence and horrible treatment of African slaves.

Voyage of the Beagle.jpg by Kipala, Samsara and Dave souza, from a map by User:WEBMASTER, under licence CC-BY-SA.

Image: Map of the Voyage of the Beagle route, Wikipedia Commons

As Darwin collected and observed species across the globe, he began to question the common assumption that natural things remain more or less the same over time. He could see similar species with small and large differences, he found patterns and what seemed to be gradual adaptations to a natural environment. Thus he arrived to his theory of Natural Selection. Often comprised in the quote, “Only the strongest survive”, he attempted to explain why biological changes occur in nature: nature itself will weed out weak traits, as the strong will live to reproduce and pass on favourable traits.

In 1859, Darwin published “The Origin of Species” officially revealing his evolutionary theory to the world. It sent tremors through the Christian world, including his own wife. It called to question the idea that humans did not appear on the Earth overnight, gifted with a soul, but rather gradually evolved over thousands of years: Man was an animal. Like Galileo discovering that the Earth was not the center of the universe, Darwin’s theories trumped the idea that humans were separate and supreme to all other species on Earth. Revealing his theories was not easy for Darwin and was a source of great pain and anxiety for him – his health dramatically improved after they became widely accepted. From then on, his theories would change our view of nature, especially human nature, forever.

The impact of Darwin’s discoveries

Evolutionary biology remains an ever evolving study in itself today and the study of natural history has never been the same since Darwin. Archeology, Geology, Botany, the study of DNA and tracing the various ages of the Earth’s existence, all stem from Darwinian theory in some way. But it also remains a source of great conflict. It is claimed that DNA evidence backs evolutionary theories, clashing against the belief in Creationism. Creationists believe that evolutionary theory wrongly contradicts religious theories of human creation – the same conflict Darwin faced in his time.

Darwin certainly would not have encountered his thoughts and ideas if he hadn’t gone out on the open sea. The Galapagos Islands. This also sounds like a nice place to take a Scholartrip, doesn’t it? Do they have wireless internet there?



  • Charles Darwin. [Internet] 2014. The website. Available from: [Accessed 11 June 2014]
  • Browne, Janet. 2003. Charles Darwin: Voyaging: Volume 1 of a biography. UK: Random House.
  • The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. [vers. 2003] ed. Francis Darwin. Fairfield, IA, USA: 1st World Library.
  • Charles Darwin. [Internet] 2013. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Available from: [Accessed 8 June 2014]
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