Saturday, April 04, 2015

Are online education's prospects brightening?

Yes, it appears from a recent article in the Economist.

We have to be clear what we mean here. Online education through mass open online courses (MOOC) has caught on - in the sense of helping people educate themselves. But the nub of the issue is whether such education translates into a job, whether an online degree is saleable. So far, this hasn't happened because universities and employers are unwilling to recognise an online degree as a substitute for an on-campus or full-time degree. But this may be changing in subtle ways. Universities can use online education to supplement on-campus courses, instead of viewing it as an alternative. Then, online begins to look really attractive. Here are some models:
  • Mix of online and on-campus courses: Many universities are now willing to experiment with a mix of online and on-campus courses- a notable example being the Arizona State University at Phoenix. It's using online courses to help under-prepared students with remedials, for instance. It's also using data analytics to zoom in on students who need help. This way, online can help students finish their degrees on time and help them cut the costs of college education. It also means faculty resources can be freed from certain kinds of teaching work and more students can be enrolled. ASU is able to offer a degree as a result for $10,000 for in-state applicants.
  • Offering a course both on-campus and online: Students have a choice of getting credits for some courses either online or by being on campus. A degree can be done full-time or part-time.
  • Taking credits online from another university: Some of the lesser universities could allow their students to take credits by doing online courses from a credible place such as Harvard.
The trick, therefore, is not to position an online degree as a substitute for a full-time degree. Market acceptability for that may be long in coming. The more sensible thing is to have a mix of online and on-campus courses. This cuts costs for students while helping universities to maintain their revenues by reaching out to larger numbers.

Online's big advantage is lower cost. Campus education's big advantage is acceptability in the market. Marrying the two is the way to make education affordable and worthwhile for more and more people.

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