Widening student participation in higher education through online enabling education

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Shah, M, Goode, E, west, S & Clark, H 2014, 'Widening student participation in higher education through online enabling education', Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 36-57.


The demand for flexible modes of delivery in higher education, especially online learning, has grown over recent years. A number of factors are contributing to the upsurge of student participation in online learning. They include innovations in technology; increased numbers of students in part-time and full-time work seeking opportunities to study at a convenient time and location; and greater use of online modes of delivery by educational providers to take advantage of the developing market. Another new phenomenon is the growth of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which enables students across the world to undertake short online courses without financial cost. This paper presents preliminary results from research into how an online enabling program in an Australian university is widening student participation in higher education. The paper compares the participation rates of various equity groups in the online program with those in the equivalent part-time on-campus program, and across the Australian higher education sector. The paper argues that the online program is playing an important role in widening participation for students from regional, low socio-economic, mature-aged and Indigenous backgrounds, and is providing women with past or present child-rearing responsibilities an opportunity to pursue higher education actively through an alternative pathway. This opportunity has made it possible for disadvantaged students from diverse backgrounds to gain a qualification for undergraduate admission and contribute to labour market needs in areas of skills shortage.

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