This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Harnessing Technology
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  The Herman Trend Alert

January 29, 2014

Reinventing Online Higher Ed

A recent study by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported that about 95 percent of students enrolled in their free, online courses (EdX) dropped them before earning a certificate of completion.

Increasingly, colleges and universities, both not-for-profit institutions like the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and especially for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix have used online learning to increase enrollments. Online learning enables them to reach working students, people with little time, others who live in remote areas, and even those who live in foreign countries.

In fact, while military enrollments in online education have declined recently, universities like Drexel in Philadelphia are beginning to explore the technology's full potential. The institution hired the very capable Susan Aldridge who was so successful at UMUC. Aldridge understands that the keys are faculty and student retention.

Begun as a UDS $60 million experiment in 2012 Harvard and MIT used the EdX project to research the technology's potential. Their goal was to democratize learning; the experiment was intended to help them "understand how people learn and how to educate well and effectively at scale".

Similar to EdX, Coursera, which features courses from a variety of different colleges and universities, has been relatively successful with MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses). Their average dropout rate is thought to be about 90 percent, though some courses, like dynamic Wharton professor Kevin Werbach's course on Gamification, have much higher completion rates. The highest of any of Coursera's programs in 2013, Werbach's course had an impressive greater than 10 percent completion rate, 8270 out of about 80,000.

Only about 4.2 percent of registrants, or 35,937, completed half or more of their courses without seeing them to completion, the researchers said. Out of the 841,687 registrants in the universities' 17 EdX courses, only 43,196 (5.1 percent) actually completed the classes.

While the researchers caution about "a fixation on completion rates", we believe that online education that does not engage the learner is pointless. What works in online education is compelling content delivered by a professor who appreciates the medium with a realistic assessment of the time investment required, high levels of student interaction, frequent testing (feedback), and a Learning Management System that works.

For working adults, carving out the requisite time to get the work done is often challenging. No matter where they are in the world, the institutions destined to succeed are the ones that embrace these understandings.


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