Rolls-Royce Education on a Mini Budget

Online Continuing Professional Development

Tom Worthington

Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

For ACS Canberra 2014 Annual Conference, 24 September 2014
Slides and notes:

Got computer job? Think you have done all they study you ever need to do? Then think again, if you want to get a promotion, or just keep your job. Tom Worthington looks at the education which computer professionals need and how they can get some of it without leaving home, or spending too much. There are now online education options ranging from free and low cost online short courses to complete postgraduate degrees. Tom discusses how to mix and match from the available options for to suit career requirements.

These are the notes for the presentation using HTML Slidy. If viewing the slides you can press "A" to display these notes (and press "A" again to hide them). To advance to the next slide, press "page down", or click the left mouse button.

Tom Worthington FACS CP

Tom Worthington is an independent computer professional, Fellow and Past President of the ACS. He is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Australian National University and tutor for the ACS Virtual College. In 2010 Tom received the ACS Canberra ICT Award for design of his online Green ICT course.

Free Webinars

  1. Webinars (Web Seminars) are short live online events.
  2. CSU's Free Short Course: Information Security Incident Handling.
  3. ACS Webinars.
  4. Ovum's "Enterprise ICT spending priorities for 2015
  5. Webinars can count towards ACS CPD

Webinars (Web Seminars) are short live events using audio (sometimes video), visual presentations and some participant feedback. To join a webinar you need a computer, an Internet connection and web browser. You don't need broadband (48 Kbps will do for audio and slides). If you want to take part in an audio discussion it is a good idea to have a headset, but mostly I just type comments. Most webinars I take part in are free and provided by universities, the same approach is used in for-fee courses and industry briefings. Many webinars are recorded for playback, which is useful if you are a different time-zone, but not as good as the live event.

An example of the use of webinars is in CSU's Free Short Course: Information Security Incident Handling. The Australian Computer Society also has some ACS Webinars. An indisyry webinar is Ovum's "Enterprise ICT spending priorities for 2015".

Members of the Australian Computer Society can receive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours for taking part in webinars. However, apart from this (and programs such as CSUs) most webinars do not count towards formal educational qualifications.

Free & Low cost Online Courses

  1. Class Central lists about 300 on-line computer courses
  2. Coursera: 150 "starting soon" (71 "verified certificate").
  3. Introduction to Systems Engineering from UNSW
  4. edX: 10 computing courses
  5. No Australian edX computing courses offered
  6. edX "Introduction to Linux", course from the Linux Foundation

Currently Class Central has about 300 free and low cost on-line courses from Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) providers.

The Coursera consortium has 150 computer courses "starting soon" (of these 71 have a "verified certificate"). Only one course was from Australia: "Introduction to Systems Engineering" (UNSW).

The edX consortium currently offers 10 computing courses. There are no Australian edX computing courses offered. While most MOOCs are from established universities and training companies, some are from non-profit organisations, for example the edX "Introduction to Linux, course from the Linux Foundation.

From Courses to Programs

"The OU’s graduation rates currently at 22% are only about a quarter of full-time (82%) and half of part-time (39%) UK higher education graduation rates.", from "22%-can we do better?", Simpson, 2010.

On-line courses were usually about twelve weeks, requiring eight to ten hours study a week, the size of a typical university course. More recently shorter courses, of four to six weeks have become more common, requiring only four hours study, similar to Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) modules.

On its own a course of four to twelve weeks can be useful for learning a particular aspect of computing. However, these courses are far more useful when part of a larger education program. But most MOOCs have been developed by universities as an introduction to a topic, for high school students and adult learners as a way to promote entry into their conventional face-to-face and online for-fee, small class programs. This makes the courses less useful to those aspiring to be, or working as, professionals who need more advanced material and credit for qualifications.

Cousera offer some "Specializations" which are a set series of courses leading to a "Specialization Certificate". The only current computing specialisation is "Fundamentals of Computing" from Rice University. This requires completion of three courses and a capstone project, costs $US196.

In considering such online programs, the low completion rate of MOOCs needs to be considered. Only about 5% to 10% of students complete a typical MOOC and the completion rate of a program requiring multiple courses and a capstone project could be expected to be less than 1%. This compares with 22% for conventional UK Open University courses, 39% for part-time UK campus students and are 82% for full time students.


Simpson, O. (2010). 22%-can we do better?. The CWP Retention Literature Review. Final Report. URL:

Small Closed Online Courses

While MOOCs have had considerable publicity, small closed online courses (SCOCs) have been offered in Australia and internationally for decades. These SCOCs usually have a few dozen to a few hundred students and are semester long university units. Some universities and consortia of universities offer complete undergraduate and postgraduate degrees using these online units, while some allow students credit for on-campus programs. As noted previously, the completion rates for these courses are higher than MOOCs, but lower than on-campus courses. The fees are usually slightly lower than on-campus courses, but in some cases are the same.

The ACS Virtual College offers a certificate made up of four 12 week online courses.

Open Universities Australia ( OUA) offer degree courses in IT from Australian Universities. This introduces an element of standardisation and limited cross university compatibility. Students can include courses from different institutions. The ACS Virtual College course are available through OUA.

Design Future Education

  1. Global Standards for Professional Skills
  2. Recognition of Prior Learning
  3. Blending Vocational and Academic Courses
  4. Recognising Industry Experience
  5. Taylor individual education from pre-packaged online courses

Looking for a Flexible Learning Strategy

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre
"Globalization, demography and the evolving careers market are changing the population of learners, while technological innovations and learning research are both empowering and challenging universities’ role in higher education.

From: Flexible Learning Charting a Strategic Vision for UBC: Vancouver Campus, September 2014

In late August 2014 I attended the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2014) on the campus of the University of British Colombia (UBC) in Vancouver. UBC's Irving K Barber Learning Centre, is an example of how universities are attempting to adapt to new ways of teaching. Architect Gili Meerovitch's glass and steel 21st century learning centre is wrapped around three sides of the 1925 granite Gothic style UBC Main Library. The modern building has been coloured and proportioned to fit with the old. In a similar way universities are attempting to include new educational techniques alongside the old.

On 22 August 2014 I attended a Flexible Learning Strategy Workshop at UBC's main campus in Vancouver. This workshop was intended for internal staff and so I could not report all the details at the time. The UBC Flexible Learning Implementation Team have now released "Flexible Learning Charting a Strategic Vision for UBC: Vancouver Campus", summarising this and other workshops. Apart from making public that UBC have joined edX (something which the implementation team asked me not to reveal previously, although everyone on the UBC campus seemed to already know), this document sets out the challenges for a large traditional university and some options for UBC to address these challenges.

The issues UBC is seeking to address are:

  1. Increasing focus on vocational education,
  2. Online competition,
  3. Demand for mid-career education.

While these are problems from the point of view of an established university, perhaps the issue should be "flipped" and looked at from the point of view of the view of the customer, that is the student. As a student, I don't want to have to go across town (or across the world) to a set place, at a set time to undertake a set course of study. What I first want is help identifying what education I need for my career (and life) goals, formal recognition for prior learning and recognition of my experience. Only after that do I want to undertake courses, and other forms of education, to fill in any gaps in my education. As much as possible I want to do this without having to attend a campus and at time of my choosing. Also I only want to pay for the education I need and get.

UBC's Executive Summary describes the problem as:

"Globalization, demography and the evolving careers market are changing the population of learners, while technological innovations and learning research are both empowering and challenging universities’ role in higher education.
To understand the impact of these forces, we analyze the extent to which they enable other institutions to unbundle the components of education traditionally delivered by universities, and to challenge the capacity of the university to cross-subsidize between activities. We conclude that in a world in which excellent content and delivery are increasingly available online (and often for free) ..."

Less clearly it goes on to propose a solution:

"... we must invest in delivering an outstanding education that is far more than content. These same forces may also unlock university access to new learner and program opportunities, and the potential for collaborations that strengthen a university’s position in the delivery of higher education. Indeed we are already seeing some evidence of this reshaping."

It goes on to say:

"(1) strengthening performance in its traditional undergraduate programs through Place-based innovation in curriculum and student experience; (2) addressing adjacent and growing areas of demand for higher education; and (3) building partnerships that allow us to offer our students the most effective learning experiences and widest array of opportunities."

By "Place-based" I assume that "on campus" is meant. Growing areas of demand are presumably non-campus based courses and "partnerships" edX and similar.

UBC segments students into four groups:

  1. Access-driven degree seekers: Traditional and younger students who want to attend a campus, but still want some of the learning online (a blended model).
  2. Convenience-driven degree-seekers: Adult students wanting an online program.
  3. Practitioners: Students seeking for prior learning assessment and credit transfer for professional qualifications (which may not be a degree).
  4. Growth learners: Those seeking education for less career specific goals.

The problem for the university is how to satisfy these diverse groups with limited resources. Also demand will fluctuate and the same people may seek different types of education at different times.

Such market segmentation may cause problems for the university in that it could end up competing with itself. A product offered by one group of students may be attractive for another group. As an example online courses may be offered for adult "convenience-driven" students, but could also be attractive to younger students who would otherwise have attended a traditional full time on campus program.

Also it is not clear why only practitioners would seek recognition of prior learning and credit transfer. Presumably any student will want credit for what they have already done elsewhere. I know I do and I am increasingly unwilling to sign up for educational programs where this option is not provided.

Three opportunities the UBC report identifies are:

  1. Continuing and professional education (CPE).
  2. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), also known as Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL),
  3. Academic partnerships (including MOOC consortia).

As the report points out none of these are new concepts and none is without difficulties. However, the availably of on-line technology makes them easier to implement (as well as increasing the competition from non-traditional educational providers).

Automobile Platforms

  1. Rolls-Royces and Minis built on BMW Platforms
  2. Mules used to test the platforms
  3. Stretch and customise platform with components
  4. Do the same with education programs?

The marketers of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Mini would like you to think these are two very different British made cars: the Rolls-Royce a hand made luxury vehicle and the Mini a small performance car. However, both are produced by German company Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW). BMW sources designs and components for both cars from its German engineering and production lines, then ships them to the UK for assembly. Both cars have a large range of options for the customer, with an emphasis on hand finishing of the interiors in England for the Rolls-Royce. The Rolls-Royce Ghost is built on the BMW 7 Series F01 Platform. The Mini is built on the BMW 2 Series UKL Platform. These "platforms" are the mechanical underpinnings of the car, on which different body designs can be built.

Motor vehicles are very expensive to develop, so car companies, or consortia of companies, design automotive platforms which have a common underbody, suspension, steering and engine components. Platforms are designed to be flexible, allowing for compact to large cars, with two or four wheel drive and a range of engines and bodies. The platforms are designed for international assembly and prototype cars (called "mules") are rigorously tested from desert to Arctic conditions. Car companies then produce a range of size and models of cars based on the one platform, from compact city cars to large four wheel SUVs, from economy to luxury, in plants around the world.

On its Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform, Volkswagen will build Polo, Beetle, Golf, Tiguan, Touran, and Passat cars, as well as Audi, ŠKODA and SEATs. The larger Volkswagen Phaeton platform is used for the Bentley Continental GT.

Education Platforms

  1. Bologna: Bachelors > Masters > Doctorate.
  2. AFQ: Certificate > Diploma + Bologna.
  3. IP3: Bachelors & SFIA

BMW does not hand make the mechanical components for a Rolls-Royce, nor custom design them for the Mini, not because this would cost more, but as it would result in a lower quality, less reliable product. Modern production techniques produce cars which are superior to hand crafted ones, as well as being cheaper. BMW emphasise the English hand crafted interiors of the Rolls-Royce, but underneath there is German engineering for the production like. This same approach, I suggest, could be applied to education.

The ideal education is usually thought of as the Oxbridge model, developed in the city of Oxford, England (not far from where BMW Minis are assembled). Under this model, a don sits in their wood-panelled stone college rooms, patiently teaching a handful of students. Each student gets individual attention from an expert in one specialisation. This ideal suffers from similar problems to hand made cars: quality and efficiency.

While a university don can be an expert in a discipline, they can't be an expert in everything the student needs to learn, nor in how to teach it. An alternative approach is to have course materials designed by multidisciplinary teams, then carefully tested and refined, and then delivered by tutors (much as cars are designed by large teams of engineers and then assembled by factory workers). This approach was used by early university extension courses, specialised Distance Education universities and later evolved into e-learning delivery and later Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

This factory approach to education might seem at odds to the Oxbridge, but dons write books, which others use to teach. Oxford University was a pioneer of university extension courses one hundred years ago and continues that tradition through its Department for Continuing Education, with web based online courses.

The traditional approach to distance education courses and their later online equivalents has been to emulate a traditional university semester long format. Individual teachers are not able to change the content of the courses and students must choose from a limited range of courses. will be able to change a course will is then greatly restricted. This is much like a customer choosing from a limited range of models of car to buy. An alternative used in vocational education is to assemble courses from much smaller modules. The academic can choose the educational modules for their student, much as a car designer will choose from a range of pre-designed components.

Some educational platforms are:

  1. Bologna Process and Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area: The "Bologna Process" is a European standardised approach to higher education, followed in Australia. This has three levels of degrees:
    • Bachelors: 3 to 4 years,
    • Masters: 1 to 2 years,
    • Doctorate: 3 to 4 years.
  2. Australian Qualifications Framework: The AQF includes the three Bologna levels, but below them has: Bentley to employ "mass production" manufacturing techniques. It shares a platform with the Volkswagen Phaeton.
    1. Certificate: 6 months
    2. Diploma: 1 year
    But these Australian diplomas and certificates may not be recognised internationally.
  3. International Professional Practice Partnership Certification: Under the IP3, national computer societies recognise each others member qualifications. IP3 requires qualifications equivalent to the Bachelors level and references the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). The Australian Computer Society and Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) are IP3 accredited. As well as initial qualifications, the certification requires ongoing professional development, typically 20 or 30 hours per year.

VET Model for Quality Education

Units of competency

The idea of mass produced education might seem the opposite of quality education, but event the most elite of universities already use mass-produced educational materials: books. Even the most conservative Oxbridge don relies on mass-produced books and papers to help educate their students. They may tell their students which part of which books to read and what to discount, but they do not dismiss all printed work altogether.

This approach of using selected packaged educational materials with customisation could be extended to e-learning courses. This approach is already used for vocational education in Australia, where teachers in Registered Training Organisations choose from about 18,000 nationally standardised "Units of competency" listed in a database, which have been assembled in various combinations to make 1,700 "Qualifications" in 73  "Training packages". Some of the educational material for this is available in . As an example, the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification (TAE40110) has 22 Units of competency (seven core), is part of the Training and Education Training Package. There is a national register of more than 50 training packages which can be used online, or in a classroom for delivering the certificate.


  1. edX courses, and other MOOCs, are components for an educational program, not a strategy
  2. Need international education programs up to doctorate level
  3. Recognition for prior work
  4. Recognition for experience
  5. Combined courses and research

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been heralded as a way to deliver low cost (or free) quality online education. The Australian National University has successfully run edX courses on astrophysics and India. Hao Wu is preparing an "ICT Sustainability MOOC", using the edX platform as a student project at ANU.

However, using the car platform analogy, MOOCs are like offering the car buyer some low cost after-market wheels and other components, for an existing model car. This will be limited benefit without a properly engineered platform design for international assembly and use. Universitas need to collaborate with professional bodies and with each other, to develop international educational programs which they can then jointly deliver These need to be flexible programs allowing mutual recognition of courses, up to doctorate level.

ICT Professionals at Forefront of Education

"... work is being done in the use and evaluation of multimedia systems and of networked client/server systems for teaching and learning. ..." From Penny Collings at the ACS Canberra 1995 Conference

As a profession and as individuals, I suggest ICT professionals should be at the forefront of development of new forms of education. The ACS can convene groups of education providers and clients in Australia and take part in international initiatives. Individual practitioners can help by asking their education providers for standardised programs which offer flexibility.

The ACS Canberra Branch Conference 1995 featured a presentation on use of the Internet and the World Wide Web for education (by Penny Collings), as well as government" and defence. The ICT profession needs to continue to lead in this way.

More Information

QR Code for These Notes
  1. The presentation notes are at:
  2. Slides for these notes are also available
  3. Report on Incorporating Professional Skills in the ANU Master of Computing, Tom Worthington, February 2013
  4. Vancouver from the 17th Floor and Notes from the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Education
  5. Tom Worthington

Version 1, 21 September 2014, Tom Worthington

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