The worst of times for online education


It should be the best time for online education.

Almost everyone who learns does so online. Teachers and other school leaders are online educators out of necessity, and millions of learners at all levels experience online learning products firsthand. Both sides of the education equation see it, touch it, take e-learning for an extended, albeit unexpected, test drive. And, at the same time, one of the first brands in e-learning – Coursera – is courting investors and going public.

Under somewhat normal circumstances and for almost all other types of markets, this type of exposure is invaluable. Consider, for a second, what electric car makers would pay to bring every driver in the world into an electric model for a solid year.

But instead of celebrating, we may be entering the worst of times for online education.

This is because, if you force people to take a test drive, you had better be sure that they will like the car, that at least some customers will want to buy it or at least keep using it.

The problem here is that the extended e-learning trial was a failure, a disappointment, a disaster. It turns out that most people don’t like online learning. Based on an overwhelming public response, distance online learning is a lousy commodity.

In February, Barnes & Noble College (BNC) published a report entitled College 2030 which includes a survey of students and teachers and institutional administrators. BNC found that “44% of students said the university had declined in value due to the pandemic.”

Should we underline what happened to college during the pandemic? In case it does, the university has gone fully online during the pandemic and now more than two in five students say it has made the university less valuable. Ouch.

BNC also reported that “students are grappling with the decrease in engagement and effectiveness that comes with online learning.” Let us also underline “efficiency”. Additionally, the BNC survey found that an incomprehensible 94% of students said schools should charge less money for online courses. Remember, students literally sued schools, bluntly arguing that online education should cost less because it is worth less.

It is not a question of distinguishing BNC. Over the past few months, dozens of surveys have shown the same thing: Students hate online learning. Not universally, of course. Online programs are a good fit for some students, and those students will continue to choose them where they can. But it is clear that students are not buying online or digital learning in the mass market.

Teachers don’t like selling it either.

A separate investigation, published on March 1 by McKinsey & Co, asked teachers how they felt about teaching online over the past year. On a ten-point scale where ten was “equivalent to face-to-face learning,” teachers in the United States rated their online experience as just 3.5. 84% of American teachers achieved a distance learning score of 6 or less compared to in-person modes. Fifty-eight percent of teachers gave it a 4 or less. Only 5% gave him an eight or better.

Keep in mind that giving distance learning a ten was just like saying it was equal to in person. It seems McKinsey didn’t even bother to ask if it was better. Ouch again.

The McKinsey survey also points out that distance or online learning is worse for poor students and the underfunded schools that serve them. For wealthy children in private schools, distance learning was a setback. For poor children, it has been devastating.

Again, this McKinsey survey is not an outlier. Dozens of research articles and teacher surveys have shown the same or similar thing.

Let’s go back to this analogy with the electric car, by having each driver take a one-year test drive. If the reviews of electric vehicle driving tests were like the ones we get after a year of learning online, the market would collapse. If 94% of drivers said EVs need to cost less because they’re not efficient, if drivers literally sued car dealers for product quality, investors would get the message. If 84% of auto experts give electric vehicles a score of just six out of ten or worse, those who build and sell them might pause and think.

But this is an online education where the failures of the past do not reflect the vision of the present or the best predictions of the future.

Speaking of which, there is a lot of investor excitement about this upcoming IPO by Coursera, one of the early innovators of the MOOC, the massive, open flop of online courses. According to the company’s financial data, it lost $ 67 million last year. He lost $ 46 million in 2019. In total, he lost over $ 340 million.

But it is the online education market, where the loudest authorities insist they are only received in the superlative.

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