"Learners don’t need to attend yet, another lecture in a crowded lecture hall at 8:00 am by their professor at the university. They can simply choose to watch better teachers online, while still in bed!"
Advances in technology have changed the way we experience life in many ways. We can now shop for everything from light bulbs to houses online, we can read e versions of our favorite books or watch movies on our Ipads thanks to Kindle and Netflix, we can create our own playlists of songs by downloading music from iTunes on to our phones, etc. Technology has made our experiences more convenient, cost effective and customized.
The expensive, bureaucratic, and slow moving field of higher education is no exception to technological disruption. In fact, YouTube which is the biggest learning community of our time, offers a host of TED talks and videos by the world’s leading thinkers on almost every topic.
Khan Academy, MITx, Udacity, and Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Technologies are leading the way with education technology. Also, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Coursera, Edx, Udemy, Futurelearn, etc. are becoming increasingly popular amongst learners. According to Edx’s website, more than 150,000 students from over 160 countries registered for MITx’s first course, Circuits and Electronics. The age of students certified in this course ranged from 14 to 74 years (Gaebel, 2013). The field of education is undergoing some changes the question is, are we as educators paying attention?
Massive skills gap
Education systems today are obsolete. They are modeled on an approach that was developed hundreds of years ago where, learners of varying levels of ability sit in classes organized by grade level before a “sage on the stage” who teaches science, arithmetic, writing, reading, etc. It is time for education to catch up with the modern technologically enhanced society we live in. Students deserve relevant, modern, customized education that can help them develop 21st century skills (Sims, 2014).
In the U.S the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will be million more job openings than trained workers to fill them by 2020 (Sims, 2014). Yet, in a field like computer science for instance, Code.org an organization that encourages more students to learn programming and coding skills states that only 1 in 10 American high schools even offer a computer science class, let alone advanced placement in the subject. In 2012, fewer than 3 % of college students earned a Computer Science degree according to the National Center for Education Statistics (Sims, 2014).
Employers worldwide lament a massive skills gap. Students look for convenient, cost effective, customized and relevant courses that can help them develop on a particular skills required to secure a job. This calls for a hybrid model of education. Although courses offered by MOOCs like Coursera, Edx, etc. do not offer credits to learners, they still offer learning material that equips them with skills essential in the 21st century. For example, Codecademy offers instruction in computer programming and other skills online. Millions of learners have used Codecademy outside the classroom to learn digital skills essential in the 21st century. The website provides curriculum and lesson plans to instructors who would like to adopt the flipped classroom approach to learning.
These new models of education are something that traditional brick and mortar universities and colleges cannot afford to ignore especially, when the field of higher education is facing formidable challenges in terms of changing demographics, financial constraints, and institutional rigidities (Baer, 1998). The new and innovative approach of these models have allowed them to put the learner at the center of the learning transaction. There are no formal entry requirements to take a course on Coursera, the courses have a definite start and end point and allow learners to study at their own pace, they may involve interaction between the instructor and other learners through discussion boards and, they provide taped lectures, videos, quizzes, reading material and exercises to record learner’s progress.
Most of the courses on Coursera are available free of charge. Learners only pay for specific services like certifications (digital badge or certificate), evaluation of assignments, etc. In a survey carried out among the participants of a Coursera course called Machine learning, half of the learners were working professionals, many of them were enrolled elsewhere in education and, other smaller groups were school students and the unemployed. It was interesting to know that about 40% of the learners signed up out of curiosity for the subject, 30% were looking to sharpen their skills and 18% were aiming at a better job (Gaebel, 2013).
Universities and colleges have been wrestling with the internet for a long time now. The enormous amount of resources and new methods of delivery make it an opportunity and threat for universities and colleges at the same time (Morrison, 2016). Some see online learning and MOOC’s in particular as a possible doomsday scenario for universities and colleges. While, others look at ways to leverage the resources available online to create engaging curriculum for the learners through the flipped classroom approach or blended learning.
Some of the leading universities all over the world were quick to provide some of their courses through MOOCs like Coursera. Here, Coursera enters into a contract with an institution to produce a course in collaboration with a professional team. Sometimes a consortium of universities may set up a company to serve a specific purpose like, edX. In other cases, the producing company enters into a direct contractual relationship with an expert or scholar to provide course content like UDACITY and UDEMY (Gaebel, 2013).
Producing a MOOC can be quite costly, as it usually requires a large production team. An estimated amount of USD 100 million in funding has been directed towards MOOCs over the past few months. For example, Harvard and MIT alone have invested 30 million USD each into edX. However, it has attracted 22 million USD in venture capital (Gaebel, 2013).
Up until now Coursera offered courses for free and did not generate any revenue. However, it is now moving towards offering certifications and fee based courses. Also, they are selling their courses to universities and colleges who are developing their own hybrid models of education enabling them to lower costs and make their study programs more attractive. For example, if university x wants to develop a course like Project Management basics they can buy the course from Coursera and incorporate it into their own program (Gaebel, 2013).
Some of the most prominent businesses and leading learning organizations in the world including Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, the University of California, the Smithsonian, Intel and Disney – Pixar have developed digital credential badges (Carey, 2012). These badges may just look like images but, they are actually portals that provide employers with information on what the bearer knows and can do. These badges are increasingly being used to improve education itself by adopting a technique from video games that keep the gamers glued, until they advance to the next level.
The development of these information – age credentials backed by a wide array of organizations with some of them being outside the education system, the creators of badge programs may be the first serious competition to traditional degrees (Carey, 2012). For example, one of the most important functions of college degrees is indicating knowledge and skill to potential employers. Yet, degrees and certificates often do a poor job of communicating detailed information about graduates. Digital Badges on the other hand indicate specific knowledge and skills that GPAs and grades are unable to communicate.
So, is this the end of universities?
MOOCs provide thousands of motivated learners all over the world access to elite universities. These learners have embraced this model as it provides them with a means to gain sophisticated skills at a lower cost and at their own convenience.
The model has been criticized for not awarding credits for courses completed by learners. However, there are some indications of change. For example, Anitoch University announced that it would award credits to learners who attend its own MOOCs, for which it will charge tuition fees. The tuition fees will be lower than the one for its traditional courses (Gaebel, 2013).
Other problems with MOOCs is that dropout rates are fairly high. Out of 104,000 students who enrolled in 2011 in a course called Machine learning, only 13,000 passed, 46,000 submitted at least one assignment and 20,000 completed a substantial portion of the course (Gaebel, 2013).
Therefore, MOOC’s will not replace traditional education but rather supplement it. MOOC’s are paving the way for new means of knowledge dissemination. They promote wider use of e-learning and raise demand as well as, public recognition for the same (Gaebel, 2013). Finally, MOOC’s encourage universities/ colleges to provide more distance and blended learning opportunities to their learners.
MOOC’s can be used or developed by universities and colleges to lower the cost of education and use existing resources efficiently. For example, supplementing traditional classroom education with MOOC’s (blended learning), offering traditional students flexible learning opportunities, or reaching out to new learner groups, thus enhancing visibility and self-promotion (Musawi, 2011). If more universities and colleges start getting involved they will have to develop their own models for providing an education to their students that is both relevant and sustainable.
In future, we will see more universities and colleges collaborating with one and another to design and develop courses for learners at reduced costs, we will see more localization of programs offered by universities for example, some universities in the UK are developing blended learning programs catering to learners in geographical areas such as Qatar, where although there are state of the art higher education institutions their course offerings are fairly limited. The universities from the UK have developed customized programs for these learners to fill this gap.
Baer, W. S. (1998). Will the Internet Transform Higher Education? Annual Review of the Institute for Information Studies, (pp. 1 - 25).
Carey, K. (2012, November 2). Show Me Your Badge. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/show-me-your-badge.html?pagewanted=all?page=all&_r=0
Gaebel, M. (2013). MOOCs Massive Open Online Courses. European University Association.
Morrison, N. (2016, January 29). Blended Learning: The Future Of Higher Education? Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2016/01/29/blended-learning-the-future-of-higher-education/2/#7573d5966a2a
Musawi, A. S. (2011, June). Blended Learning. Journal of Turkish Science Education, 8(2).
Sims, Z. (2014, May 23). Education Needs to Change as Fast as Technology. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/techonomy/2014/05/23/education-needs-to-change-as-fast-as-technology/#49381712749a