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Jim Ellis Head of Technology Enhanced Learning Design at The Open University


Jim is a former RAF Education Officer who then spent eight years as a corporate e-learning designer and project manager – leading projects for Barclays, the Civil Service, MoD, Royal Bank of Scotland and Volkswagen – before joining the Open University in 2003 as Head of Interactive Media. He is currently Head of Technology Enhanced Learning Design, contributing to OU teaching strategies and standards, and leading a team of 15 learning designers who work closely with academic colleagues in the design of new modules for the OU’s 170,000 distance learners. He achieved a Doctorate in Education in 2011 and Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in 2015. Jim is passionately interested in how adults learn and how well-designed educational technologies can enhance that experience.


We spoke to Jim ahead of the event and here's what he shared with us:

Q:  Could you give us a preview into your presentation topic at Future Edtech?  

"I’ll explain the importance of data to the OU, given that all its students are at a distance and the majority of learning activities and materials are pre-prepared.  This makes knowing as much about students’ backgrounds, needs, expectations and study behaviours critical to the design of effective and engaging modules.  I’ll show examples of the sorts of things we know, what we can predict, and how we’ve used data from online activity tracking and student feedback to inform design discussions and improve the study experience."

Q: How will education evolve in the future under the influence of technology? 

"I think it comes down to ‘reach’.  The internet gave us the capability to connect to hosted sources of information and with each other, but the size, cost and speed of early technologies limited what we could do.  Now, because we can send and process data much more quickly and cheaply, technologies are being developed to capitalise on that.  The Internet of Things (IOT) is a good example of this – how many of us would have imagined a few years ago that watches, doorbells, fridges and thermostats would contain computing and communication features?  We now need to consider the affordances of emerging technologies in a teaching and learning context, and this may require some thinking outside the box and taking a few risks.  MOOCs were a good example of relatively straightforward tech widening access to good quality collaborative learning, but a more sophisticated example might be something like the Open University’s Open Science Lab ( which allows students to remotely perform virtual experiments and control virtual equipment – at relatively low cost, safely, whenever and as often as they need.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at Future Edtech?

"Sizing up the competition – and experiencing either the satisfied glow of feeling ahead of the game, or some of those must-try-harder wake-up calls!  But mostly the people: it’s always great to catch up, make new contacts, swap information and often discover that the seemingly insoluble problem that’s top of your list of doom is exactly the same one that other people are struggling with."

Agenda Sessions