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About Mark Nichols

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About Dr Mark Nichols PFHEA

Professional introduction

I am Director Technology Enhanced Learning with the Open University, UK, and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (reference PR124303 HEA:0034484). In January 2017 I was an original member of the Open University Redesign (now Students First Transformation programme) team, investigating a new operating model; as at September 2017 I am lead architect of the programme. I'm otherwise responsible for a team of TEL professionals innovating, serving and transforming online and distance education. Until end January 2016 I was Executive Director (ED) of Education Design Services with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, a senior management role.  

At Open Polytechnic I led a professional team of staff dedicated to student success through the design and development of innovative online learning materials. Up to June of 2014 I was ED Faculty for Open Polytechnic for four years, leading a team of management, academic and general staff dedicated to student success. Previous to that I was e-learning specialist (and member of faculty) with Laidlaw College (was the Bible College of New Zealand), a broad role that included everything from LMS administration through to tutor training, course design through to change management, strategy through to research.

As of 2016's conference I am a member of the EDEN Executive Committee. Previously I proposed and chaired the Mahara ePortfolio project, and have been a member of the DEANZ and ascilite Executives (before resigning from Open Polytechnic I was president of DEANZ following some years of co-editing the Journal of Flexible, Open and Distance Learning, and was a senior executive member of ASCILITE). I was also until 2015 a member of the Central Hub Advisory Group for Ako Aotearoa, and served on the Tertiary eLearing Reference Group (TeLRG). I was recognised as a Flexible Learning Leader in New Zealand (2005-2006) and also convened the ITPNZ (polytechnic sector) e-learning forum while working for UCOL.

Past research has been in the areas of e-learning theory, institutional change, ePortfolio implementation, and Web 2.0. At the moment my research activity is directed at publishing based on my PhD (see below) and various projects involving senior management with Open Polytechnic. I authored a series of E-Primers, scholarly yet accessible introductions to e-learning drawing on substantial (and peer-reviewed) research. These are available through Ako Aotearoa and have been well received. One of my articles published in Distance Education (Nichols, 2010) was the most downloaded article in that journal for 2011. In 2001 I self-published a book called Teaching for Learning. It's not bad, even though it was self-published! It's now freely available here in PDF

I have had the privilege to present at various conferences. 

Personal introduction

As of late January 2016 I live in Milton Keynes; previous to that, in Lower Hutt (New Zealand). I'm 47, married to Charlotte and have two adult children (Joshua and Elliott). I've been a Christian since my 21st birthday.

I read titles on management, leadership, education, theology, history, philosophy, popular non-fiction, and eclectic fiction (for fun and broadening of thought - see my Goodreads profile). I also enjoy walking, running, listening to classical music, and travelling with my wife. Sadly my opportunities for casual sea kayaking have dwindled since moving to the UK! By way of replacement I'm now taking tourism much more seriously. 

I have always had a love for the Scriptures, and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to preach in church many times over the years and to have served as an elder. I make frequent use of Logos Bible software and enjoy Bible study in the original languages. I have been a frequent church speaker and teacher. 


Academically I graduated from Waikato University in 1995 with a BMS (Management Studies, with honours) then completed an MAODE (as in Open and Distance Education, with distinction) with the Open University, UK in 2001. I attended my online graduation ceremony in my pyjamas, perhaps the first NZ postgraduate graduant to do so (at least legitimately). My wife and her parents also attended in their pyjamas, so reluctantly I am unable to share the graduation photos... In 2008 I started PhD study with Otago University, looking at personal and spiritual formation through distance education. I graduated at the University of Otago in December 2014. The full thesis is available here, Ultimately I am a very limited doctor, not able to provide a useful diagnosis but certainly qualified to offer an informed perspective! Completing the PhD has really illustrated to me the importance of knowledge as the raw materials for the development and furthering of perspective. I have learned to engage with ideas rather than blindly accepting them or, perhaps worse, glibly ignoring them. My professional roles have required me to make use of ideas, rather than merely ruminate on them. 

Work history

Over the years I have worked as a tutor for a retail training programme, a senior lecturer at UCOL (in marketing and business communication), an e-learning consultant (at the same polytechnic), a course designer and tutor trainer (for the Bible College of New Zealand, part-time), and strategic e-learning facilitator for the College of Education (Massey University) before starting in 2007 as e-learning specialist for Laidlaw College (was BCNZ). I have also performed some freelance consultancy in the areas of distance education and e-learning. Senior management with Open Polytechnic since 2010 has opened up a new career avenue for me. I'm looking forward to the opportunities my role at the Open University will lead to.

My work history has provided me with useful perspectives on both online education and organisational development. My roles with Laidlaw College, Open Polytechnic and now the Open University have enriched a sense of an organisation as a single, interdependent set of functions. Laidlaw College provided an opportunity to work in an environment where everyone knew everyone else, and so a working knowledge of how an entire organisation works could be developed. At Open Polytechnic, a much larger organisation, I was able to apply senior management responsibilities with the same organisational perspective. The Open University, an organisation much larger again, I am finding the all-of-institution appreciation once more exceedingly useful. 

I have a reasonably extensive publication history in e-learning that includes peer-refereed journal outputs and various conference presentations (the latter not included in this ePortfolio).

  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Industry: Education
  • Last name: Nichols
  • First name: Mark
  • Occupation: Director

Your Entire Resume

Contact information

Town Milton Keynes
City/region Buckinghamshire
Country United Kingdom
Mobile phone +44 7 493736642

Personal information


Personal goals

To enjoy a rich life, to flourish in my chosen pursuits and to be known as a reliable, affirming, innovative and empowering person. To live a life inspired by Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection, not a judgemental, closed or frustrated life, but a vibrant, open and loving one.

Academic goals
To continuously broaden my perspectives in such a way that my practice is deepened, and my opinions useful to others at a variety of levels.
Career goals

Serving strategically in education-related roles that require innovation based on sound research. Leading and being a part of a team of dynamic professionals who see education as a public good, and who are dedicated to transformational learning based on rich scholarship.


Employment history

I lead a dedicated and highly capable group of teams in the University’s Learning and Teaching Solutions unit. The teams maintain and enhance the University’s VLE; explore, design and innovate new approaches to distance and online education; and guide module development teams in their design of technology enhanced learning.

Currently (as of mid 2014) Executive Director, Education Design Services; previously Executive Director, Faculty. Both are senior management positions at Open Polytechnic. As ED Faculty I was responsible for faculty leadership, management and research. I chaired the Faculty Managers' Forum and (still) the Research Committee. As Executive Director, Education Design Services I have taken on responsibility for all aspects of courseware development and revision, which includes leadership in furthering programmes for online-specific delivery. Change management, policy and strategy generation, and high-level decision-making are aspects of both roles. I am a member of the Open Polytechnic Executive team.

E-learning strategy, systems development, department management, professional development, user support; a broad role appropriate for the size of institution. I was employed as a member of faculty (non-teaching), in recognition of my research activities. In my time at Laidlaw College hybrid course design, online assignment submission, online course evaluation and integration of Moodle with email across the entire institution were put in place.

E-learning strategy for the College of Education, institutional development, project management, professional development, liaising with university departments, e-learning research.

Senior lecturer, business studies. Appointed e-learning consultant once the College made e-learning a priority. The senior lecturer role involved peer mentoring and some training. As e-learning consultant I was concerned with project management, professional development, systems development, and research. My employment 2003-2005 was on a 0.8 basis.

Establishing e-learning systems, training online tutors, course design and planning. Employed at 0.3.

Education history

An investigation to compare the spiritual formation characteristics of on-campus and distance learners.

Distance education theory; instructional technologies and e-learning; my mini-research project was on best practice in resource-based learning, which was later published as a book.

Majors were strategic management, entrepreneurship, and marketing.

Certifications, accreditations and awards

A two-day ica:uk workshop.

Contributing a case study to an Ako Aotearoa National Project Fund initiative, in partnership with the University of Auckland, University of Otago, and Massey University.

I had the privilege of attending the 2012 E&Y EP,

My article "Student perceptions of support services and the influence of targeted interventions on their retention in distance education (Distance Education 31(1))" was the most downloaded in that journal for 2011.

The Journal is the publication of the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (

Proposed, chaired and supervised a successful TEC-funded project ($450,000), which resulted in the creation of Mahara, an open-source ePortfolio platform.

Recognition of my leadership in the area of e-learning. As a part of the award I researched institutional change with an emphasis on e-learning, resulting in a publication with BJET, and leadership.

Awarded by UCOL for success in research.

Awarded by UCOL for activities in e-learning and course design.

Books and publications

Research papers currently in progress (joint papers are in support of Open Polytechnic staff): • A vision for online theological distance education. • Opinionated pedagogy and evidence-based platform development (joint paper). • Reflections of a new and developing educational designer (joint paper). • Teaching online with and alongside iQualify. • The transformative nature of online and distance education (joint paper).

2014: Melbourne School of Theology, "Introduction to SOTDE"; thinking strategically about Situated Online Theological Distance Education. MST, Melbourne. 2014: Melbourne Bible Colleges, "Better you stay where you are"; benchmarking and general advice regarding online theological distance education. Harvest Bible College, Melbourne.

2015 (July). Flexible learning and education. Keynote for ACG staff conference, Wellington, New Zealand. 2015 (May). MOOCs, distance education, and why the latter wins. Webinar for DEANZ. Available from 2014 (December). Internationalisation at a distance. Keynote at the University of Otago distance education symposium, Dunedin, New Zealand. Available from 2014 (November). Member of Open Education Resources (OER) panel. Ascilite Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand. 2014 (November). An online orientation to open, flexible and distance learning. Paper presented at ascilite Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand. 2014 (April). Renovation as an alternative to MOOC disruption. Paper presented at the DEANZ conference, Christchurch, New Zealand. Available from 2014 (April). An online orientation to open, flexible and distance learning. Paper presented at the DEANZ conference, Christchurch, New Zealand. 2014 (March). Keynote (Mahara Hui). "Mahara and the challenges of adulthood", Wellington; see 2013 (December). Keynote (ANZATFE conference). "Better you stay where you are: Theological education and spiritual formation", Auckland. 2013 (December). Workshop (ANZATFE conference). "Theological eDucation", Auckland. 2013 (August). Invited presentation at staff development conference (Open Polytechnic). "Whakapiri: Reflections on engagement in distance education", Lower Hutt. 2012 (November). Invited presentation at staff development conference (Open Polytechnic). "What does 'community' mean in distance education?", Lower Hutt. 2011 (September). Invited address at staff development conference (Waiariki), "Thinking about the hard cases", Rotorua. 2011 (April). Keynote at staff development conference (Wintec), "Extend, Enhance, Excite, Engage… but, above all, Educate", Hamilton. 2011 (February). Presentation at the Sydney College of Divinity, "How do we make distance theological education excellent?", Sydney. 2011 (February). Presentations at DE Hub, "Web 2.0 and the Conversational Framework" and "Transformation through distance education", Sydney. 2011 (February), Keynote at WCELfest (University of Waikato), "Extend, Enhance, Excite, Engage… but, above all, Educate", Hamilton. 2010 (August), invited address ASIA THEOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION 40th Anniversary and General Assembly; "Training the whole people of God through extension education and online learning", Hong Kong. 2010 (June), Keynote at the Blended Learning Conference (The University of Queensland and University of Hertfordshire), "Sure it’s blended… but is it the BeST we can do?", Brisbane. 2010 (April), invited address, MOODLE (Mini) MOOT "ePortfolios: Current practice and future trends", Wellington. 2010 (April), "Intervention for retention through distance education" and "How JoFDL works" (DEANZ conference, Wellington). 2009, "eGroupthink", invited address ASCILITE, Auckland. 2009, "Reframing e-learning: A critical consideration of some core concepts", invited webinar address, TLT (US) and ASCILITE (October). 2009, “Transformative theological education at a distance”, keynote NZATS, Auckland. 2008, “What is distance education?”, DEANZ, Wellington. 2008, “A critique of Web 2.0”, DEANZ, Wellington. 2007, “The e-learning landscape”, keynote CTMES conference, Auckland. 2007, “Institutional perspectives”, invited address at eFest, Wellington. 2007, “ePortfolios and Web presence”, invited address EIFE-L ePortfolio conference, Wellington. Other invited addresses (conferences not listed): 2004, “A sane evaluation of eLearning”, Open University, UK; University of Gloucester, UK. 2004, “A sane evaluation of eLearning”, PPTA conference, Wellington. 2003, “The challenge of eLearning”, QPEC conference, Palmerston North. 2003, “The promise of eLearning”, The Correspondence School conference, Wellington. 2002, “Professional presenting: Making your point with power”, Future Vision conference, Lincoln University. 2002, “Is there meaning to our media?”, Canterbury Tertiary Alliance eLearning conference, Christchurch. 2001, “Is there meaning to our media?”, UCOL staff conference, Palmerston North. Various main service speaking engagements (local churches).

I have served (and in some cases continue) as a reviewer for: * The Journal of Distance Learning * Distance Education * AJET (Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, journal of ascilite) * Information Research * IRRODL (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning) * Learning, Media and Technology * Studies in Higher Education

Seelig, C., & Nichols, M. (2017). “New Zealand: Open Polytechnic.” In C. Latchem (Ed.), Perspectives on Distance Education: Using ICTs and Blended Learning in Transforming TVET (Chapter 6), Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO-UNEVOC, pp.103-116.

Nichols, M. (2016). Reading and studying on the screen: An overview of literature toward good learning design practice. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning 20 (1), 19-32.

Nichols, M. (2016). A comparison of two online learning systems. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning 20 (1), 33-43.

Mark Nichols (2016) The Formational Experiences of On-campus and Theological Distance Education Students, Journal of Adult Theological Education, 13:1, 18-32, DOI: 10.1080/17407141.2016.1158495

Nichols, M. (2015). A comparison of the spiritual participation of on-campus and theological distance education students. Journal of Adult Theological Education 12(2), 121-136.

Nichols, M. (2011). The akademeia as paradigm for online community. Journal of Christian Education 54(1), 5-23.

Nichols, M. (2011). Distance Education at the Open Polytechnic: The ‘Institutional’ Approach. In J. Barrett (Ed.), Open Learning for an Open World: Reflections on Open and Distance Learning and Teaching at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, pp.15-30. Available

Nichols, M. (2011). Articulating E-pedagogy for Education. In J. Barrett (Ed.), Open Learning for an Open World: Reflections on Open and Distance Learning and Teaching at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, pp.321-336. Available

Nichols, M., & Dewerse, R. (2011). Evaluating Transformative Learning in Theological Education: A Multi-faceted Approach. Journal of Adult Theological Education 7(1), 44-59.

Nichols, M. (2010). Student perceptions of support services and the influence of targeted interventions on their retention in distance education. Distance Education 31(1), 93-113.

Edited by Bruce Nicholls, Theresa Roco Lua and Julie Belding; Asia Theological Association, pp.247-258.

The Journal of Distance Education 24(1), pp.77-90, co-authored with Peter Cowie. This article describes the process of e-learning and hybrid course diffusion at Laidlaw College, with a particular emphasis on lessons learned.

An investigation into the effectiveness of retention intervention strategies used by the Centre for Distance Learning (CDL) at Laidlaw College. The final report from the project has been submitted for publication.

A series of monographs introducing e-learning related themes. Available from

Exploratory research into the nature of institutional change relating to e-learning diffusion. Includes a literature review of major articles. The article was 'online early' in 2007, published in the journal 2008: Nichols, M. (2008). "Institutional perspectives: The challenges of e-learning diffusion". British Journal of Educational Technology 39(4), 598-609.

An article criticising a primary research investigation by Hagel and Shaw, whose article in the previous issue of the journal was based on an inadequate understanding of distance education and e-learning.

A speculative peer-reviewed article, co-written with a university colleague, suggesting how technology might change the shape of childhood teacher education.

An article exploring the perspectives of an e-learning specialist (me) and a lecturer new to e-learning (co-author).

An online discussion article consisting of a pre-discussion paper and post-discussion summary, included in the journal. Co-authored with a university colleague.

An article considering the financial cost of e-learning, and the difficulty of evaluating its benefits.

A paper with a polytechnic colleague reporting on an institutional evaluation of flexible learning and making strategy-based recommendations.

A pre-discussion paper and post-discussion report on ten suggested theories for e-learning. A widely cited paper.

A book based on my MA research into best practice for resource-based learning (including the application of technology). The six principles proposed in the book are based on a sound understanding of adult learning theory. Soon to be released as an open resource.

Professional memberships

BJET is the British Journal of Educational Technology,

President of New Zealand's leading professional body related to open, flexible and distance learning. I resigned to begin my new role in the UK.

Member of Governance Group, Teacher Training Qualifications TRoQ review

JOFDL is the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning:

I began as Treasurer and was elected Vice President before I resigned to begin life in the UK.

I was a member as President of DEANZ. The TeLRG is a Ministry of Education committee.

I resigned when another CHAG member was employed by Open Polytechnic.

Treasurer from 2003-2006, no office 2007-2008, journal editor (then co-editor) 2009-2013. Convened 2012 conference held in Wellington.

I began as the NZQA monitor, then joined the Board after suggesting the College no longer required active monitoring. Resigned when I moved to Wellington.

Convened the group during a pivotal time of its development, leaving only when I began in the university sector. Co-convenor in 2003.

Career Goals

Serving strategically in education-related roles that require innovation based on sound research. Leading and being a part of a team of dynamic professionals who see education as a public good, and who are dedicated to transformational learning based on rich scholarship.


Academic goals

To continuously broaden my perspectives in such a way that my practice is deepened, and my opinions useful to others at a variety of levels.

TEL-ling it like IT is RSS

  1. The ISTE standards for students

    - Published on 14 November 2017, 8:01 AM
  2. Micro-, meso-, macro-levels of TEL

    - Published on 10 November 2017, 7:43 AM
  3. Are you an online evangelical?

    - Published on 18 September 2017, 6:37 AM
  4. Gains in online learning since 2010

    - Published on 26 July 2017, 7:08 PM
  5. BERA Educational Technology SIG 7 April

    - Published on 01 May 2017, 10:42 PM
  6. Myths about education... A counter-voice that gets you thinking

    - Published on 10 March 2017, 6:56 PM
  7. Kor blimey... Text on-screen?

    - Published on 17 February 2017, 8:21 AM
  8. And, on the hardware side...

    - Published on 12 February 2017, 12:26 AM
  9. HEPI report - Rebooting learning for the digital age

    - Published on 07 February 2017, 8:26 AM
  10. Agile course design and development: Dam[n]ing the waterfall

    - Published on 25 November 2016, 3:43 AM
Last updated on 15 November 2017, 5:00 AM




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