Thursday, June 7, 2012

Who's really driving the online education revolution

APP-TITUDE: Generating the best student outcomes through online
education requires highly interactive and engaging learning models
Several recent news articles have underscored how we need to transform the American education system and provide programs that improve the way we teach and learn. Many of the ideas presented focus on the online education revolution, and how to implement and improve online education.

We think some of them are spot-on in their analyses. Others have stirred up some disagreement among our faculty. We wanted to highlight a few of the stories that have fired us up to see what you think.

First, a series of articles talked about the changes underway at many colleges and universities regarding online education. David Brooks said that what is happening to higher education is a "rescrambling around the Web" in his New York Times column, "The Campus Tsunami."

He also said that online education today mostly helps students with the initial learning process of absorbing information, rather than thinking about the information, testing its use in a discussion, and organizing it into an argument or thesis.

While many of us at Post University admire David and his writing, we think his understanding of online learning is at an early stage. Many innovative online programs have been underway for years and are helping students achieve the higher-level learning processes of absorbing, considering, testing, and using information in an argument. These programs are based on highly interactive learning models, and are designed to engage students and faculty in deep discussions about the subject matter.

What's even more important to understand, though, is that smaller, lesser-known institutions; for-profit universities; and community colleges have mainly been leading this online education revolution. The Ivies are bringing more attention, brand, and credibility to online education with their recent entrance into this space. However, it is the former group of institutions that have been at the forefront of the creation, measurement, and innovation of higher education itself.

We were struck by a similar thought when we read Thomas Friedman's Seattle Times op-ed, "Brace for online revolution in higher education." Thomas cites Coursera as the start of the online education revolution. Coursera, as you probably know, is a new online education company launched by Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller.

Well, we wouldn't say that the industry should "brace" for a revolution in online higher education -- because the revolution is here. Same goes for this line in "College Crackup and the Online Future" by Bloomberg's Mark C. Taylor: "In the coming decade, emerging technologies will thoroughly transform higher education."

We wouldn't couch this trend as something on the horizon. It's here, folks! It's time to stop simply preparing for it. It's time for more universities to tap the power of online learning, and use it to create interactive learning models and engage in in-depth conversations with students about the topics at hand.

When done well, online higher education provides a more personalized, interactive, and robust learning environment that not only focuses on theory, but on practice, and goes far beyond offering students access to recorded lectures.

It also removes the barriers to higher education faced by the growing number of adults looking to go back to school. Many colleges and universities are on the right track, and we need to continue working together to achieve better outcomes for our students and the businesses that employ them.

On that note, we also wanted to highlight another article that grabbed our attention, "Creating Innovators: Why America's Education System Is Obsolete" by Forbes contributor Erica Swallow. She reported on recent research from Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner.

He believes parents, teachers, mentors, and employers must work together to develop not just students' knowledge, but more importantly, their skills to innovate, think critically, collaborate, and take initiative, among several other abilities.

This resonated with Jane Bailey, Dean of Post University's School of Education. She thought Tony hit the nail on the head, as she and others at Post have talked repeatedly about the importance of developing students' soft skills, including the four C's -- collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.

Jane left her opinion on the article in a comment, explaining why she believes we need to cultivate students' soft skills and enable them to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems. You can read her full thoughts by clicking over the article and jumping to page 7 of the comments.

How do these articles hit you? Do you agree or disagree with the perspectives presented? Tell us your opinion in the comments.