Going the distance

Following talking at BETT 2015, Chris Cobb COO, University of London, tells us about the latest developments in distance learning

The University of London (UoL) is the oldest distance learning establishment in the world catering for students in remote locations since 1858. Chris proudly states: “The UoL has been shipping teaching materials and holding exams in ISO credited exam centres around the world for over 100 years now.” Nowadays UoL delivers its distance learning courses digitally and helps other institutions to do the same and as such are the largest host of Moodle VLEs in the UK with over 100 institutions using its services.

Technology and distance learning has moved on so rapidly in the past few years and, in order to stay at the forefront of the industry, the University now delivers their courses through their distance learning arm UoLIA giving over 55,000 students around the world access to teaching materials and course specific media.

Due to the nature of UoL’s 17 colleges there is a distinct need for a certain malleability in the overall platform used to deliver course material. Chris explains: “Each college maintains its own independence but is also able to be a member of a wider community”, as such, around half of the colleges and institutions at UoL use the University of London Computer Centre’s (ULCC) Moodle service; enabling a custom-built platform perfectly suited to each college’s individual needs.

“Moodle provides this flexibility and allows us to create a bespoke learning platform that integrates all our needs.”

The open source nature of Moodle allows multiple specialised tools to sit on top of the platform; ensuring the most suited and sector-specific tools are implemented into any situation.

UoL not only uses these services itself but also provides the opportunity for other establishments to use the expertise of ULCC to help in the development of a specialised Moodle framework of their own.

The University of London also provides other services in careers advice and student accommodation and the main strategic plan for UoL currently is to consolidate all of these services under one umbrella moving forward.

Chris goes on to say: “We already provide ICT services to over 300 HEIs and FEIs in the UK, the largest careers service in Europe and the largest student accommodation service in London.

“Employers come to use because of the sheer critical mass of students that we have pass through the UoL,” Chris claims.

“We also look after the accommodation needs of over 30,000 students in London. What we are doing is condensing these services under one operation.”

It makes sense to link these ideas together and, much in the same vein as their Moodle development, create a framework that addresses these three specific needs in the education industry, allowing the most suited services to be implemented effectively. Chris points out: “These days; as much studying is going on in bedrooms as libraries” and he has a point. Surely it makes sense for universities to consolidate the services provided across campus?

It seems that UoL has a lot of goals to reach in 2015. Watch this space for future updates on the development of UoL’s implementation of its strategic plan.


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