Possibilites for the Digital Age

DigitalMBA The Future of Online Learning in Higher EducationThe Future of Online Learning In Higher Education

Institutions of higher education have increasing embraced online education, and the number of students enrolled in distance programs is rapidly rising in colleges and universities throughout the world.  Without question, online education has become an important long-term strategy for most post-secondary institutions.

Many surveys have been conducted to assess the quality of online education, usually addressing student achievement and satisfaction as the two main criteria for such assessments. Results seem to show that online education can be at least as effective as traditional classroom instruction.  Most researchers agree that good online courses should be relevant, rich, experiential, interactive, and collaborative, while providing learners with some choice or control over their learning (i.e. learner-centered).  It is also generally agreed that good online instructors should be good moderators and facilitators of student learning.  Online collaborations, case-based learning, and problem-based learning should be the preferred instructional methods for online instructors.

Industry analysts, using results from several recent surveys, predicted considerable growth in online certification and re-certification programs, as well as in associate degrees and other short-program offerings.  Many analysts also agree that monetary support and pedagogical competency of online instructors would most significantly affect the success of online programs.  Many feel that more focus should be placed on blended learning – instruction that combines face-to-face classroom learning with online offerings – rather than on fully online courses.  Survey respondents, including professors and students, generally agree with recent Sloan reports that the quality of online education will continue to improve in the future, and most predicted that the quality of online courses would be superior to (47%) or at least the same as (39%) that of traditional instruction by 2013.  Similarly, a large majority of respondents believe that learning outcomes of online students would be either the same as (39%) or superior to (42%) those of traditionally taught students by the year 2013.

A recent report on online education, conducted by SRI International, examined comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008.  Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.  The results from 99 studies all arrived at the conclusion that,  “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving only face-to-face instruction.”

Traditionally, most instruction in higher education is focused on consumption and evaluation of knowledge, not on the generation of ideas and knowledge.  Online programs should take advantage of new, emerging Internet technologies, as well as a more flexible framework, to embed creative and generative online tasks and activities in the course itself.  Our surveys indicate that universities and colleges are now finally focusing on how online learning can develop student collaboration and evaluation skills.  The potential of the Internet as a tool for virtual teaming or collaboration, critical thinking, and enhanced student engagement to be used within the context of online education is almost unlimited.

“Five years from now on the Web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Bill Gates once said at a Techonomy Conference in Lake Tahoe. “It will be better than any single university.”

The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms.  That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.

 

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