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VIDEO: Online Learning in Higher Ed … An Avalanche Coming?

By on May 5, 2013
Domestic, International, K-12, Required, Textbooks, Universities & Colleges, Videos

Avalanche commencing in 10.. 9.. 8.. Steve Arnold via Compfight

By Paul Glader, Managing Editor

PALO ALTO – If you believe Pearson Plc chief learning officer Sir Michael Barber, you might want to put on a pair of skis and to – strategically and metaphorically – get off the mountain. He thinks an avalanche is coming in higher ed.

At a panel discussion this week at the Education Writer’s Association on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.,  Barber rattled off the list of factors creating the avalanche: MOOCs, globalization, technology change, rising educational costs, changes to the value of a degree. Bottom line: more competition. Pearson recently published a free paper by Barber recently about the coming avalanche. The book promo reads:

Citizens need to seize the opportunity to learn and re-learn throughout their lives. University leaders need to take control of their own destiny and seize the opportunities opened by technology to offer broader, deeper and more exciting education. Each university needs to be clear with which niches or market segments it wants to serve and how. Finally, governments need to rethink their regulatory regimes for an era when university systems are global rather than national and a student’s education can take multiple paths.

During his remarks at the EWA meeting, Barber noted that some students still want non-academic services such as mentorship, advice and help in fulfilling their dreams. “That’s not going away,” he said. Universities will continue serving such a role in regional economies. But their work will become more challenged with an increase in competition.

“In recent years, we are seeing increasing global competition from universities. We see an unbundling of universities and competition at each unbundled levels,” he said. The competition from new providers of the unbundled services poses a threat. “It also provides a huge opportunity. What you don’t do in the face of an avalanche is stand still. You begin to move. That has huge implications to a college or university.”

John Mitchell, vice provost of online learning at Stanford University, was on the same panel. He noted distance learning is not a new concept. Stanford has had a distance learning program since 1954. “What we plan to offer students will evolve over time,” he said. “What has changed in the last two years is we had two MOOC courses from Stanford and 350,000 people signed up. That drew a lot of attention.” Now, Stanford professors have launched MOOC providers Udacity, Coursera and Stanford has recently partnered with the other major MOOC provider, edX. It has a range of other projects and experiments ranging from the Stanford Online High School to k-12 projects at the

He said Stanford’s aims to be a the forefront of learning technologies and delivery mechanisms do not threaten the on-campus experience of Stanford’s highly selective undergraduate program. Rather, it’s an exercise in experimentation and brand-building for the university.  “Any hour we can take away from angry birds and put it into learning can change the world and is something we feel good about,” he said. “We are really at the beginning of something that will take years to develop where we really become more effective and efficient at using these tools. We will figure out what works better and what doesn’t.”

Mark F. Smith, a senior policy analyst for higher education at the National Education Association, urged caution. He says the avalanche may be misconstrued and that fears and hype over distance education has been around since the 18th Century or before. “I believe distance learning started happening when Plato started writing Socrates down. You could engage in philosophy without having to be with Socrates on the streets of Athens at that point in time,” he said.

Smith notes that some people thought radio would transform higher education in the 1930s. Later, as TV arrived, some university professors discussed how TV would transform classrooms and become a “University of the air.” The online learning hype is just the latest iteration of such thinking Smith said. “Tech will constantly improve education, but you still need some type of interaction among students and between students and faculty who are knowledgeable,” he said. “The technology today is much more interactive than it was. It’s still important to have person to person contact.”



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