Guest post authored by Chris Proulx, President & CEO of eCornell
2012 was a transformative year in education. Between the introduction of the MOOC (the ‘Massive Open Online Course’), and the explosive growth in the number of online offerings, all eyes were on higher ed. In the past twelve months, students were increasingly able to learn from leading faculty at elite institutions beyond the four walls of their classrooms, and soon, professors will be collaborating across universities to collectively create and distribute for-credit curriculum for an online semester. New high growth players entered the online education marketplace, and universities began to align around interactive platforms. As online certificate programs became more robust and hyper-targeted towards professional development, more and more students looked to gain these credentials as a differentiator in the work force.
After such a dynamic year, the discussion naturally turns to what the higher education environment of 2013 will look like and to what extent it will be impacted by technology.
Based on what we’re seeing at eCornell and in the wider online education eco-system, here are a few predictions for what can be expected in the coming twelve months.
2013 will be a year of big growth for online education. However, the growth will not be purely measured in terms of enrollment in online programs. In fact, over the last two years, enrollment in the for-profit education sector was down and industry giants such as the University of Phoenix announced the closure of some of its facilities. So where will the growth be? In 2013 we expect to see a concentration of growth in top tier universities. Over the last two years, the number of top-tier Universities with at least some online activity has more than doubled, in large part due to MOOCs. That said, the availability of other credit and non-credit programming from highly selective schools has also increased significantly. This is something that is on track to continue in 2013, as these late-adopting schools move online.
Gone are the days when students need to pile into large auditorium just to hear a lecture. By leveraging online platforms, lectures can now be pre-recorded and core content accessed by students any time, anywhere, and as many times as they need. This means that classroom time can instead be used to augment the lecture content, whether through discussion, group exercises or quizzes. Also, since online platforms provide faculty with learner analytics, faculty now have even greater data on who is learning, what they are learning and how. So, the design of the classroom course is now ripe for innovation. This will create opportunities as universities continue to hone in on the most effective formats for learning in the digital age while they re-think how to better use classroom time and space.
Everyone was talking about the MOOC this past year as the notion of an online course offering with infinite capacity captured the attention and imagination of the education industry. Nevertheless, facts show that MOOC’s still make up a very small portion of courses at most schools and that won’t change in 2013. Plus, there are still a number of fundamental questions surrounding this model—what will be the cost to sustain MOOCs over time, will these courses count for credit and if and how will they be packaged together into a certificate or degree program? That said,the hybrid model (where part of a program is taught online and part is taught in person) is one that we can expect to see more fully embraced in this coming year. Faculty will still have the ability to interact with and assess directly their students while still leveraging some of the efficiencies of putting lecture and other course content online. For adult and working professional students, this model provides even greater flexibility as students can access course material as their schedule permits. Finally, this allows institutions to experiment with increasing their online programming without fully turning away from their tried and true model.
As lecture content is moved online, instructors will be able to re-think the classroom experience. A new model for peer-to-peer and peer-to-faculty interaction will need to be created, as this is one of the most fundamental components of classroom learning. There is a huge opportunity for instructors to create a more in-depth learning experience, whether by incorporating real-time discussions with industry experts or building small group experiences online, all of which may allow for more personalization of courses to students’ needs. The beauty of teaching analytics is that teachers will have real time information on how students learn and can augment future plans accordingly. While this is a budding area of exploration and one where schools will need to invest in discovery, once they ‘crack the code’, it opens the door to a much more effective as well as potentially more scalable model.
One of the greatest costs in higher education is faculty. The notion that faculty can increasingly reach a greater of number of students in their ‘classrooms’ means the per unit cost of teaching a student could start to decrease, but only if you can achieve similar or better learning outcomes, and simply moving lecture content online will not solve the cost problem. Yet as institutions experiment with the pedagogical formula of what content is delivered online, how peer-to-faculty interact in both the online and “flipped-classroom” environments, and faculty explore new models of assessment, some institutions could potentially find educational models that begin to bend the cost curve. The first step is to continue to nurture faculty across the country to embrace online teaching, and from there we just may see a shift in the business of education. The introduction of MOOCs in 2012 was an important first step forward in that direction.
Chris Proulx has over a decade of experience leading one of the most credentialed online education programs.Mr.Proulx works closely with Cornell University to create and deliver eCornell’s online programs and to identify growth opportunities for the University. Mr. Proulx is a frequent panelist and technical advisor to online education conferences and industry events.