WEATHERING THE STORM: A TIME TO REINVENT ONLINE COURSES TO ADAPT TO RISING COSTS, CHANGING TECHNOLOGY, AND CHANGING STUDENT POPULATION
National University (UNITED STATES)
The author argues that a storm is approaching higher education. University administrative costs are rising; also, tuition in both private and public universities in the United States has risen over 25 percent in the past ten years, and universities have been forced to pass on these rising costs to students. Students have reacted by either taking on more and more debt or seeking lower-cost opportunities for higher education.
Changing technology is the second wave of the storm. Online courses, mobile devices, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and more robust learning management systems offer students low cost alternatives to traditional classroom courses. While some of these technologies have not met expectations, the stigma of online courses being “a technological correspondence course” is gone. Major universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are partnering with providers such as edX and Coursera to provide low-cost online courses. Business and online education partnerships are also starting to form. Recently Starbucks began a program to award employees $1,500 to take online courses at Arizona State University.
The third wave of the storm is the changing student population. The average age of university students is getting older as workers leave the workforce to update their skills. Technology is allowing workers to work off site, to collaborate with their colleagues, or to take online courses anywhere they can connect to the Internet. There is also a growing population of students who travel, have changing work schedules or changing life events that do not allow them to take traditional courses, whether online or in class.
This study examines a representative sample of students and course outlines at a private, non-profit business school in California. Based on these findings, the author concludes that existing online courses that are modelled after classroom courses and do not meet the needs of a large number of working adults who have changing work and life events. Online courses that better meet the needs of this growing student population should include the following criteria.
Online courses should be more that a collection of lectures and activities that were used in the classroom; they should be guided by relevant constructivist learning theory.
Flexible course length:
While there are administrative challenges, students should be able to complete courses as their work and life situation permits.
Students anywhere should have the same learning experience. Synchronous methods are inconvenient or impossible for students in different time zones or working changing schedules.
Students should develop their own understanding of concepts through meaningful interaction with other participants.
Project based. Rather than completing a series of unrelated activities, students should leave the course with a project that will help them in their personal or professional life.
Open access and available remediation resources. Adults entering or returning to the university have excellent organization and self-assessment skills, but may not test well on standardized tests and may need to refresh basic skills.
The author discusses the rationale for the above criteria and gives examples from existing online courses.