A new standard for online education


The title appeared in the New York Times February 21, 1994: “Computers and telephones open a new path to college graduation.” The article characterized how the future of the college classroom “maybe no classroom at all”. He went on to describe the growing demand among students for “distance learning” (the term online education had not yet entered our vernacular). Among many of the faculty members cited in the article, however, there was skepticism about computer-based teaching.

Fast forward to today, over 25 years later. Online education has been the primary driver of higher education enrollment growth in the United States for the past decade, even before the Covid-19 pandemic forced virtually all college courses to be delivered remotely.

According to the US Department of Education, one in three students took at least one online course in 2018, representing 6.95 million learners. The share of online students in the United States has increased by 30% since 2010, even as the number of students on campus has fallen by more than one million.

But even as the demand for online education increased among students, faculty attitudes towards digital learning remained largely blocked in 1994. Indeed, when the pandemic struck, a investigation by Bay View Analytics found that more than half of faculty in U.S. colleges and universities were using digital tools and teaching methods available to them never used before.

And you know what? Many teachers have converted. Faculty attitudes towards online education have become much more positive during the pandemic and, in fact, are now broadly aligned with what the students want more and more.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a fundamental change in almost everything we do, from work to travel to shopping. This new normal has also spread to higher education. Just like when we have to buy something and make little distinction between in-person or online shopping, we will do the same with education by switching between face-to-face learning and online learning based. of our needs.

“We’re going to stop using the term ‘online learning’ because students don’t think online and offline,” said Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University. “They live their lives online. They are never offline. Think about it: we don’t say we do “word processing” anymore. We just say we write. The same will be true of the way we learn.

This shift in mindset about how we learn comes at a time when the need for further education is particularly acute. Entire industries are expanding and contracting in the wake of the pandemic, as workers rethink what they want to do with their lives. The result is a growing demand for further training and retraining among tens of millions of adult workers who are limited by their workplace and pressed for time.

A logical landing place for many of them are regional public universities in their communities, which are increasingly offering degrees online, especially in high-demand fields like healthcare, education, business and technology. A report published last week by Academic Partnerships, a company that helps colleges and universities bring their programs online, found that 97 percent of students and alumni in programs it supports at more than 50 institutions, mostly regional public universities, are of working adults, with more than a third of them between 35 and 44 years old.

“Regional universities are the anchor points and engines of economic growth in their communities,” said Rob Ganji, CEO of Academic Partnerships.

There are over 400 regional public universities in the United States. These institutions are inextricably linked to their regions and tend to attract most of their students from neighboring communities. “Access to high-quality, affordable and workforce-relevant education programs through online delivery,” said Ganji, “has never been more important”.

At a time when affordability is on the minds of many students, Ganji also noted that the average tuition fee for an online degree at universities with which Academic Partnerships works is $ 14,000.

It is clear that the needs of workers and the workforce will require not only flexibility in how education is delivered, but also in how it is consumed by students. Yes, there will always be a place for traditional, residential, full-time experiences for undergraduates and largely for face-to-face study programs for graduate students. But learners increasingly need access to shorter, just-in-time programs that provide them with the skills to get a job in two months, not two or four years when they could complete a traditional degree. .

Last June, 2U, another company that helps colleges bring their academic programs online, announced the acquisition of edX, one of the leading providers of massive open online courses (MOOCs). One of the things that drew 2U to edX was its stable of university partners and its range of courses and micro-certificates that can provide more flexible pathways to degrees.

“Online learning is here to stay because it provides flexibility that traditional programs by nature cannot,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX at the annual conference ASU-GSV Education Summit last month.

It was a sentiment shared by others at the conference, even some of the leaders in traditional higher education. “We’re not going back to 2019,” said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University and a longtime higher education researcher. “I think all the institutions in the country will be changed.”

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