MOOCs and Traditional Online Courses Are on a Collision Path

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Updated 27 July 2015

In everyone’s bucket list, under the heading “Education,” is “Attend an elite college.” Until recently, however, this item has remained unchecked for the vast majority. According to Jonathan Wai, “Only about 2% to 5% of all US undergraduates went to … elite schools.”1

Thanks to MOOCs, the economic and scholastic barriers are going down. And thanks to Natalie Morin,2 students in the U.S. and the world over don’t have to look far for elite offerings. Among the 31 in her list are:

Harvard (“Science and Cooking; Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens; Poetry in America: The Civil War and Its Aftermath”); MIT (“Introduction to Computer Science and Programming; Circuits and Electronics; Molecular Biology; User Innovation: A Path to Entrepreneurship; Introductory Physics: Classical Mechanics”); Princeton (“Computer Architecture; Effective Altruism; Imagining Other Earths; Paradoxes of War; Reinventing the Piano; Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technology”);

Yale (“America’s Unwritten Constitution; Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty, & Disadvantage; Introduction to Classical Music; Moral Foundations of Politics”); Stanford (“Planning for a Sustainable Future with Wind, Water and the Sun; Behind and Beyond Big Data; Careers in Media Technology; Environmental Risk and Resilience; Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing; Adventures in Writing”); Columbia (“The Civil War and Reconstruction 1850-1861; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1865; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1865-1890”); University of Pennsylvania (“An Introduction to Corporate Finance; The Global Business of Sports; Modern & Contemporary American Poetry; Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases”);

University of Chicago (“Asset Pricing; Internet Giants; Global Warming; Understanding the Brain; Critical Issues in Urban Education”); Dartmouth (“Introduction to Italian Opera; Introduction to Environmental Science; The Engineering Structures Around Us”); Cornell (“The Ethics of Eating; American Capitalism: A History; The Computing Technology: Inside Your Smartphone; Introduction to Global Hospitality Management”);

Johns Hopkins (“Psychological First Aid; Confronting Gender Based Violence: Global Lessons with Case Studies from India; Major Depression in the Population: A Public Health Approach”); Northwestern (“Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation; Career 911: Your Future Job in Medicine and Healthcare; Understanding Media by Understanding Google”); Berkeley (“The Science of Happiness; Biology for Voters; Electronic Interfaces: Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds”);

Wellesley (“Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance; Introduction to Global Sociology; Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior; Introduction to Human Evolution”); Georgetown (“The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom; Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries; Terrorism and Counterterrorism”).

MOOCs are free and completely online, they’re open to everyone, and the registration process is simple. You’re free to plug in when and where you want for as long as you want, and if you decide to complete the course, you could earn a certificate. In some cases, a certificate requires a small fee.

Developers are beginning to design a second generation of MOOCs, or MOOC2, that can be taken for credit toward college degrees. For example, see “edX-ASU Global Freshman Academy: Will It Work?” As these evolve, the distinction between online courses locked into traditional structures and MOOCs will gradually disappear.

A key obstacle to the growth of MOOC2 has been pricing. MOOCs that cost as much as traditional onground courses are simply out of reach for nontraditional students who make up the bulk of participants. However, a recent trend toward drastically lowering the cost of traditional courses in completely online degree programs is underway at Texas Tech and other universities. A critical element in this business model is the removal of out-of-state tuition, the final barrier to the expansion of online programs.

MOOCs and traditional online courses are on a collision path, and the impact will change the face of higher education forever, obliterating the class and geographic barriers that have limited access to elite colleges. The promise of online, from the very beginning, has always been access, and here, in the middle of 2015, the promise is gaining traction.

Addendum 7/27/15: Read Ray Rose’s comment re learners with disabilities and the accessibility challenges they pose for MOOCs and online courses. Also see his Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education, INACOL, Oct. 2014.

__________
1Frank Bruni Is Wrong About Ivy League Schools,” Quartz, 22 Mar. 2015.
231 Elite Colleges That Offer Free Online Learning,” Tucson.com, 23 July 2015.

Virginia Leads Way to Online High School Diplomas

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Virginia leads the way to completely online public high school diplomas.1 “Virtual Virginia, the commonwealth’s online high school program, is poised to recruit as many as 100 students to pilot the state’s first full-time online diploma program.” The really good news is that the state is jumping into the virtual with eyes wide open. They’re “set to operate within the program’s existing $4.6 million budget.” They’re also aware that, at this point in time, “the online format suits some students more than others.” They’ve done the homework and learned that “those most likely to succeed in an online school tend to be self-motivated, self-directed students, and their learning style is suited to an environment that involves discussion through posts on message boards.”

It’ll be interesting to watch Virtual Virginia develop in the coming months and years. They’re opening a massive door that remains locked for most school systems in the country. The qualities for success online — self-motivation, self-direction, and active engagement in discussions — are perfectly aligned with those for success in MOOCs and the growing number of affordable online college offerings, which means an open door to college courses and the possibility of earning college credits while still in high school.

The possibilities for learning online are endless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the last vestiges of classroom walls are eventually removed, allowing students to earn high school and college credits via widely available open learning resources such as MOOCs.

The potential for online resource sharing with high school systems in other states (and other countries) is also real, providing an infinitely richer array of courses, interactive opportunities, and experiences. In other words, geographical isolation will become less an issue, and in the early going, it may be a blessing in disguise, hastening the migration to online options. The challenge for administrators and teachers will be to maintain an open attitude toward schooling.  Continue reading

edX-ASU Global Freshman Academy: Will It Work?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

I really wanted to get excited about this Global Freshman Academy (GFA) idea of completing first-year college courses via MOOCs. It presses all the right buttons. You don’t need to go through the tedious process of applying, submitting transcripts, waiting for a letter of acceptance, etc. And it’s free, in the finest MOOC tradition. That is, if you don’t want college credit. For credit, you pay $200 per credit. Not cheap, but affordable. But it gets even better. You “only pay when you know you have passed the course.”1

But clicking into the details quickly reveals some shortcomings. First, the link to the How It Works video doesn’t work.2 However, the Try the GFA Orientation Course button, directly below, does. In the “About this course” section, clicking on the See more button takes you to a Q&A list, where you finally find some answers to basic questions.

To take the orientation course, you need to click on the Enroll Now button, which takes you to the Create an account page. I didn’t register, but the process seems simple and quick. You have the option to create an account via your FaceBook or Google accounts.

As it stands, the GFA is really just a single course, Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy, which “is now open for enrollment, and starts in August 2015. Two additional courses will be offered starting fall 2015, with the remaining courses scheduled to be released within the next 24 months.” I’ll let you decide whether this lives up to the hype of a global program that “reimagines the freshman year experience” and “creates a new path to a college degree.” Even after all the courses are in place, there’s no guarantee that the aggregate will form a typical freshman year experience that will allow students to move directly into their second year.

Costs are a bit fuzzy. You have to pay an upfront $45 fee to enroll in the “Verified Track,” required “to ensure you are eligible for credit once the course is over.” And this, I assume, is in addition to the $200 per credit if you decide to go that route. I’m also wondering if the verified track registration is just a ploy for the usual tedious college application process. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether the $45 fee is required for every course and not a one-time fee, but the implication is that you need to pay the $45 upfront for every course to reserve the option to convert to credit. Again, I’ll let you to decide if this is or isn’t a variation on the old bait-and-switch.  Continue reading

A Sensible Higher Ed Business Model for Online Degrees: Are We There Yet?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Not yet, but we’re getting close.

Devon Haynie, in “10 Most Inexpensive Online Bachelor’s Programs for Out-of-State Students,”1 provides signs that higher ed has reached a milestone in the quest for a business model for online degrees that makes sense for the population that needs it most — students and families of students who simply can’t afford today’s high cost of a bachelor’s degree.

For students from low-income families, the bottom line is tuition that can be paid through minimum-wage part-time jobs. In other words, can they earn enough working 20-30 hours a week to pay their tuition?

In a time when tuition is rising instead of falling, online technology has been the light at the end of a very long tunnel. But until now, that light has remained distant and dim, receding rather than growing closer, with colleges viewing technology as added value to onground traditional courses and calling the mix “blended” while driving the cost of education even higher.

To further stymie the growth of online courses, they make them as unattractive as possible, continuing to charge online students the same fees as their onground counterparts even when they don’t use the same resources. To further stick it to online programs, out-of-state fees are also charged, effectively shutting out the potentially large disruptive population of nontraditional and low-income students.

But all of that is changing. At last.

For example, Mary, a hypothetical student who lives at home with her parents and works 20 hours a week at the counter of a fast-food restaurant in Wai’anae, Hawaii, can now earn enough to pay her tuition at Texas Tech University, where she’s working toward a bachelor’s in Special Education and Teaching. The cost per credit hour is $213, and she needs 120 credits to graduate. The total cost for four years is $25,560, which breaks down to $6,390 a year or $3,195 a semester.  Continue reading