The Future of Online Learning – a New Vision

woman lying on a sofa with laptop

A recent online enrollment research survey shows that students are rushing to sign up for online education opportunities. The number of students taking at least one class online courses rose some 30-plus percent in the past decade, according to the study. Anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 students are taking these so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs haven’t even scratched the surface of what they will become in five or 10 years. Like those universities that offer the best college programs online, future online learning aspirations are high, but practical applications are still under the lens. The three biggest independent or non-profit providers of online learning have recently marked their one-year anniversaries. A fourth, already seven years old, continues to supplement, not supplant, traditional courses.

Free online courses are still the main lure for massive open online courses, but companies like edX offer students and others an open source education platform. It also is actively adding new universities and colleges to better its online offerings, as well as conducting research into best ways for students to learn in an online setting.

The massive movement in education toward online learning is certainly not without critics. At least one report found that up to 90% of these students don’t actually complete the course. Why aren’t online students finishing? Some suspect students are missing classroom camaraderie. Others opine that students need more classroom discipline to finish assignments and complete courses, and without it, they can’t focus on the program.

A Higher View?

The presidents of both Harvard and MIT universities wrote in a recent Boston Globe op-ed that classroom innovations are being spurred on by the introduction and continuing implementation of online learning tools. Both schools are proponents of online learning, offering online courses through its curriculum.

The presidents suggested that online learning ia an adaptive, continuous process, one in which students gain many benefits. Among them are the student’s ability to study and learn according to their own individual schedules, using interactive features to deepen the lesson’s understanding and the ability to gain online feedback from teachers.

The authors referred to a model of education that revolves around living on campus, something that online learning seems to go against. While having in-person interactions leads to new ideas, new processes and new innovations, changes to on-campus schooling may be the path for the future.

Online Learning’s Top Four

Some of the leading independent lights of the online education world were at the edX spring conference hosted by Harvard and MIT. Among these were key leaders from online learning companies like Coursera, edX, Khan Academy and Udacity. How to implement more education interactivity with online tools was a key point of the sessions, according to this MIT summary. For instance, having professors record lectures, provide video responses to students and incorporating tech items like annotating text within lesson work are all part of a greater interactive future.

Let’s take a glimpse at some of the leading online education providers:

Coursera: Founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng on April 18, 2012. Among its partnering educational institutions: California Institute of Technology; Duke University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Princeton University; Rice University; Stanford University, University of California, San Francisco; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Michigan; University of Virginia; and University of Washington.

Coursera international partners include: EPF Lausanne, Switzerland, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, University of Toronto

edX: Founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University on May 2, 2012, edX has nearly one million users of its offerings. Among its partnering educational institutions: Davidson College; California Institute of the Arts; Boston University; Curtis Institute of Music; Georgetown University; Harvard University; Berklee College of Music, MIT; University of California-Berkeley, San Diego and Santa Cruz; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Washington and Wellesley College.

International partners include: Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne, Germany’s Technical University of Munich, Australian National University, Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, TU Delft, Belgium’s Universite catholique de Louvain and University of Toronto and McGill University.

Khan: Khan is an online repository of short video lectures. Its founder and CEO, Salman Khan feels that Khan’s videos will supplement, not supplant, traditional, physical learning methods. His recent book is called The One World School House, in which he outlines areas of online education around human interaction between students and teachers, creativity and human learning and optimism for the future of online learning.

Udacity: Founded by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky on January 23, 2012. Partnering educational institutions: San Jose State University and Stanford University.

A New Look

The future of online education appears bright to many within the MOOC community, but maybe not as bright to those who see a subsequent devaluation of a traditional physical college degree. But the growing number of online students does tell us one thing: MOOCs fill a void in education. These online learning courses have boundless potential to supplement and enhance the existential experience that comes from learning and participating inside the classroom.

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