Online Education: The Year Ahead

15 Oct

By William Fenton

Online education will grow up by scaling down. In spite of the practical and theoretical possibilities of e-learning, the very qualities that have enabled massive open online courses (or MOOCs) to serve prodigious numbers of learners—machine-graded assessment, prescriptive course design, and self-paced enrollment—have also tend to promote antiquated pedagogy, curtail student engagement, and preclude a sense of cohort. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As early as 2009, the U.S. Department of Education found that blended learning initiatives produced better learning outcomes that traditional face-to-face instruction. The past six years have brought numerous advances to the technological apparati of online learning. However, many of those innovations—particularly the trend towards self-paced, siloed instruction—haven’t improved learning outcomes inside or outside classrooms. More than tools, our priorities must change. Fresh from the second Learning With MOOCs, I am optimistic that the goals and methods of online learning are shifting away from unfettered scale and towards blended initiatives with residential universities.

Convening both creators (e.g. university faculty and staff) and platform providers (representatives from edX and Coursera), LWMOOCS provides a cross-section of online education and a canopy under which stakeholders may share case studies, voice questions and concerns, and traverse institutional and disciplinary divides. After listening to and speaking with a diverse coterie of edtech practitioners, I am hopeful that the coming year will invite experimentation with smaller, smarter, more social online courses that better serve learners.

Scaling Down
The days of MOOCs with 100,000 students are largely passed, and good riddance. First, falling enrollments disclose an abundance of online learning options: With more platforms, fewer students enroll in a given class. (I’ve reviewed about a dozen Learning Management Systems, a half-dozen online course platforms, and I’m keenly aware of how many platforms I haven’t evaluated.) Second, and more importantly, bigger classes tend to produce worse learning outcomes. When students feel bored (e.g. lecture fatigue) or isolated from peers (dead-end discussion boards), they’re more likely to give up—hence the eyebrow-raising attrition rates.

[ Full article available at PC Magazine:,2817,2493154,00.asp ]

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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



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