Friday, July 13, 2012

Some of the best resources for institutions entering online education

Nearly every day I read in the news about the growth in online education. Usually the story is covering one of two situations: more educational institutions are starting to add online learning modules to their academic programs, or a new online education start-up is launching or receiving venture capital funding.

An example of each story crossed my desk recently, and I wanted to highlight them. First, Inside Higher Ed's Steve Kolowich wrote about new online learning initiatives that top-rated liberal arts colleges are implementing. He covered how some professors at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University are piloting online courses developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI).

As a team of educators who have been at the forefront of the online education revolution, we recognize many of the challenges these and other institutions are probably facing, such as how to analyze and evaluate online learning technologies, how to develop an online learning program that best meets students' needs and results in strong learning outcomes, and how to implement and support the chosen program.

So I encourage institutions that are new to online education to look to other, perhaps lesser-known institutions for guidance on how to incorporate online learning into a traditional liberal arts program. Many of America's smaller, lesser-known institutions; for-profit universities; and community colleges have been developing, running, and managing online learning programs for several years.

Indeed, these institutions have led the innovation and change in online education in recent years, and their experience and recommendations are worth exploring. I wrote more about this in the comment I left on Steve's article.

Along these lines, I wanted to point out an article from GigaOM's Ki Mae Heussner, who covered the boom in online education start-ups, such as UniversityNow, Codecademy, and Coursera. Again, the growth of these programs continues to signal online education's increasing strength. However, this is an area where I'd like to point out something we've learned as a result of our experience in developing and implementing a robust online education program.

While these online courses allow for easy access to education, the most effective online education programs have several crucial qualities. Some of these include highly interactive and engaging courses, meaningful and frequent conversations with peers and professors, and strong academic support services. These are qualities that can only be found at colleges and universities that have well-conceived and developed online learning programs. I explained this more in the comment I left on Ki Mae's article, which you can flip to for more.

What's your take on these issues and trends?