Distance learning technologies as a vital necessity
The collocation "distance learning technologies" (DLT) has become so familiar in the educational lingo that we can hardly imagine educational process without DLT, especially in case of organizing further vocational education.
After the pandemic, we clearly felt the need to develop and implement a new, combined educational process model. Such a model suggests that traditional direct interaction between students and professors, practical, scientific and social activities in their familiar form should be combined with the use of online courses, exercisers and synchronous distance learning, and be provided with digital didactics 1. So, this is a new concept: digital didactics. Now the potential of digital technologies for individualization and optimization of educational process and development of new educational programs seems obvious.
1 Analytical report "Lessons of the "Stress Test": universities during the pandemic and after it". // https://www.hse.ru/data/2020/07/06/1595281277/003_%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4.pdf
In Russia, online model of education export was first identified in the priority project "Development of export potential of Russian education system" (2017) as one of the target models of Russian universities' education export activity. The appearance of this model is explained by the widespread use of mass open online courses (MOOC) and online learning, by which we mean one of the distance learning formats that suggests active synchronous interaction between educators and learners with the use of e-learning tools. The online model of education export refers to the provision of educational services to foreign citizens using e-learning tools on the Internet.
Mobile learning strategy is important for education development. According to UNESCO, "mobile learning implies the use of mobile technology both separately and in conjunction with other information and communication technologies (ICT) to organize the educational process, regardless of the place and time of training 1". According to UNESCO experts, the unique advantages of mobile learning are:
  • expanding opportunities and ensuring equal access to education;
  • personalization of learning;
  • instant feedback and knowledge assessment;
  • possibility of learning anytime, anywhere;
  • effective time management in the classroom;
  • formation of new student communities;
  • situational learning support;
  • development of continuous "seamless" learning;
  • combining formal and informal learning;
  • minimizing the harm done to the educational process in zones of military conflicts or natural disasters;
  • assistance to students with disabilities;
  • improving the quality of communication and management;
  • maximizing cost efficiency 2.
In November 2019, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held its 40th session, where, in order to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, they approved Recommendations on Open Educational Resources (OER) aimed at achieving five goals:
  • building the potential of parties concerned to create and provide accessibility, further use, adaptation ad further sharing of OER;
  • development of stimulating policy;
  • encouraging the creation of high-quality OER adhering to the principles of inclusiveness and fairness;
  • promoting the creation of OER sustainability models;
  • promoting international cooperation 3.
1 UNESCO Recommendations on Mobile Learning Policy. UNESCO [Electronic resource]. 2015. Electronic data. Access mode: http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/ru/files/3214738.pdf.
2 UNESCO Recommendations on Mobile Learning Policy. UNESCO [Electronic resource]. 2015. Electronic data. Access mode: http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/ru/files/3214738.pdf (accessed: 09/22/2021).
3 Recommendations on Open educational resources (OER) // UNESCO Official Portal. E-resource: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=49556&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Analytical report "Lessons of the "Stress Test": universities during the pandemic and after it"

Recommendations on Open educational resources (OER) UNESCO Official Portal

UNESCO Recommendations on Mobile Learning Policy. UNESCO [Electronic resource]. 2015
Chronologically, the following figure represents the evolution of OER:

Today, we see national virtual universities funded by governments appearing in different countries. According to UNESCO, there are more than 115 virtual universities in the world 1.
1 D'Antoni, S. The virtual university: Models and messages [Electronic resource] / S. D'Antoni. UNESCO. 2010. Electronic data. Access mode: www.unesco.org/iiep/virtualuniversity/home.php, free. (accessed: 08.04.2021).
In February 2021, the Association of European Universities presented a report on the vision of higher education by 2030, "Universities without Walls", which tells that "Universities are defined as open, transformative and transnational. The nature and structure of universities will be hybrid: both physical and virtual universities will promote the development of both environments maintaining close interaction with society. Physical and virtual environments will merge together; this will make the activity easy to adjust to circumstances and, ultimately, create "universities without walls".
Today, we see national virtual universities funded by governments appearing in different countries. According to UNESCO, there are more than 115 virtual universities in the world1.
UNESCO experts believe that the creation of national virtual universities allows governments to:
  • accumulate high-quality technical and human resources;
  • focus the efforts of a virtual university on the basic needs of the national labor market or education system;
  • use and develop the existing infrastructure of Internet technologies;
  • support the development of e-learning in traditional educational institutions;
  • provide advantages of national e-learning programs over foreign ones;
  • export e-learning programs to other countries in native languages, since it can recompense the costs of their creation partially.
The models of national virtual universities in different countries depends on the approach as well. For example, the Bavarian Virtual University in Germany is a virtual campus funded by the state. ASEAN Cyber University, UNISA and The African Virtual University are the examples of regional virtual universities. The Open University in UK and the Indira Gandhi Open University in India are international virtual universities. And most often the word "Open" refers to virtual universities.
In Russia, there is a project "Modern Digital Educational Environment" implemented within the framework of the "Science and Universities" national project. This is a unified e-learning space that provides a full-fledged e-learning process and is accessible from anywhere in the world.
The system contains information about all online courses in the world and how students master them. For this purpose, a unified register of online courses was created by integrating educational platforms. The Ministry of Education and Science of Russia controls the maintenance of the register.
The state information system was designed for higher education institutions on the basis of the information portal within the framework of the "Modern Digital Educational Environment" project. The portal provides one-stop-shop access to online courses implemented on various educational platforms.
At the same time, there is a catastrophic shortage of online programs in foreign languages in Russia. At the beginning of 2022, only 14 universities in Russia implemented 51 online degree programs in foreign languages.
Now, under the sanctions, without access to Russian educational programs on international platforms like Coursera or EdX, we have to constantly update foreign-language content on Russian platforms and create different modules in foreign languages on different information platforms. Moreover, students on distance learning have to create a virtual linguistic, scientific, educational and socio-cultural environment for successful adaptation when transfering to full-time studies. This means that we are talking not only about learning with the use of DLT, but about including the so-called distance social adaptation into the life of the university and the country as well.
The current situation in higher education shows that we absolutely must start teaching classes using new information technologies. At the same time, online and traditional learning methods should be complementary, not mutually-exclusive. The main purpose of online learning is to build strong motivation by joint efforts of learners and educators actively involved in the learning process.
Vera Skorobogatova
Executive Director of the Competence Center for International Services of Educational Organizations,
RANEPA. Leading federal expert on international education, international scientific cooperation and recognition of international education.