Thursday, January 10, 2013

Report Shows Steady Progress With US Online Education

The report "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States" by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman (Babson Survey Research Group, January 2013) surveyed 2,800 US university vice chancellors (and equivalent) about on-line education at their institutions. They found 6.7 million students taking at least one online course, an increase of 570,000 on last year. This is 32% of the students undertaking online courses. However, the study uses the definition of 80% more of the course being on-line as "on-line", so this is really a measure of blended courses, not pure online ones.

According to the report, VCs are not convinced Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are a good idea, with only 2.6% having one and 9.4% are planning to introduce them.

VCs increasingly see the need for more discipline by online students as a barrier, with the number mentioning this increasing from  80%in 2007 to 88.8% in 2012. In my view, this is not the fault of the student, but poor course design, which is easily corrected. Retention rates is also see as a problem by the majority of VCs. I suggest this is a problem with program design. Programs need to be flexible to allow for the changes which on-line students experience. Having a rigid program with a fixed timetable designed for full time on-campus students and then blaming the student when they are forced to drop out is not the solution. One approach I think shows merit is the ANU Graduate Studies Select (GSS), where students can select from a range of courses across the university and from partner institutions and progress through a Certificate,  Diploma and Masters.

While VCs rate on-line education as having at least as good learning outcomes as the classroom, less than half believe their teaching staff accept this view.  While this study is useful, it would be interesting to get the view of the teachers themselves. It may than teachers understand the effectiveness of on-line education techniques, but are not getting the support to implement it and expect to be penalized with lower pay and more work if they do.

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