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The education revolution has already begun

One of the hot topics for debate at the recent EFMD Deans and Directors conference in Istanbul was the rise of online learning and, of course, the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

It’s like a movie with the slightly sinister car in the rear view mirror, you’re not really sure if the driver is chasing the hero, sometimes the car is there, sometimes it’s not, but every time you look in the mirror the car seems to be getting closer and the menace is getting greater.

Yet distance learning is nothing new.  The Open University (OU) in the UK has been doing it for decades with great success using a variety of technologies.  Back in the 1970s OU programmes tended to be stereotyped as being delivered on television in the middle of the night by middle aged men with beards and sandals.  Today it’s very different.

The OU was one of the first adopters of iTunesU as a platform for distributing learning materials and making content available to the public at large.  In the 1309 days up to January 2012 since the Open University launched on iTunesU, there had been over 44 million downloads of their material, with 5,192,000 visitors downloading files, an average of 291,500 downloads a week, 90% of visitors coming from outside the United Kingdom and 1 in 33.6 downloaders going on to visit the OU website. 

Now with the Futurelearn project the OU is positioning itself at the heart of the online learning community alongside Coursera, EdX and others.  So why the sudden interest in MOOCs?

To begin with it’s the numbers.  A US report suggests that ‘the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed six million and nearly one-third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course’ (FOX Business).  More than two and a half million students have registered for programmes just on Coursera.

But don’t get taken in by the numbers alone.  Drop out rates are high with a number of reports suggesting around 12%-13% of enrolments complete studies.  Although given the class size this may still be more than all the students attending classes in a subject at physical institutions around the world.

Class make up is also interesting.  Another article recently highlighted some of the data:

  • 28% of the student body is from Europe and 35% from North America.  The completion rate of those who register for a course is between 5-10%.
  • Of those who register, 30% fail to participate in their selected course from day one.
  • 60% of those who do turn up intend to browse and see what the course is about, and watch the videos, but don’t wish to undertake homework etc.
  • 80% of Coursera’s students already have a university degree, and half of that group holds a postgraduate qualification.

The second reason for looking closely at the MOOCs is technology. Learning online has sometimes been a clunky experience in the past.  Today there is a wealth of experience in making online learning work and the technology is drawing from a host of other online experiences to deliver a quality virtual classroom for those studying.

Next is the question of money.  The growing costs of study at traditional institutions are building demand for alternatives.  If MOOC study is validated and accepted by employers, then the demand may grow even more quickly.  At present studying on a MOOC is free in most cases.

One of the ways in which MOOCs are looking to make money is through providing career services.  To do this effectively, they will want to do everything possible to help employers understand their offer and the benefits of recruiting from their ‘graduate’ pool.

Of course, an element in all of this is the next generation of students.  CarringtonCrisp, in their annual study GenerationWeb, found that the number of students using social media to collaborate for their studies, both in and out of the classroom, doubled last year to just under 40%.  This generation have grown up with social media, starting with Bebo and MySpace before moving on to Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of other platforms around the world.  Every part of their lives features online so it should come as no surprise that learning should also involve technology.

Technology is bound to change higher education.  Predicting what the future looks like is almost impossible - it’s only the early days of the revolution.

Votes: 22

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Executive MBA in India Tuesday 28th May 2013 - 06.58am
Thanks a lot for providing the updates on education revolution. It was really worth it.
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