I took a MOOC (free online course) and was impressed with the whole experience. The lecture was intriguing and lively, and delivered by a world-renowned MIT professor. The platform was effective. (I wrote a blog about my experience Free Online Courses.) The move to online courses is driven by not only cutting per student instruction costs and reaching a larger audience, but also creating a whole new learning environment. (In this blog, I will draw insights from Mr. Bowen’s book Higher Education in the Digital Age.)
It is difficult to forecast where education will be in a few years because new technologies are evolving so fast. Online education platforms are being constructed to maximize learning potential; each of the MOOC consortiums has built an online course platform and expressed a willingness to share it (page 59). Here are some advantages of an online learning experience:
- Immediate feedback loops (page 73). Course instructors and designers have a significant amount of data collected from a system that they can use to make conclusions on the effectiveness of the course. For example, professors get immediate cues regarding how students understand key concepts from a fifteen minute lecture segment (where students are prompted with questions). Immediate feedback and the collection of data related to students’ interactions might revolutionize the higher education learning experience.
- Students get feedback from the system. They have to answer questions correctly before moving on in lectures.
- Teachers get feedback from the system. They learn the proportion of students answering question correctly the first time, and how much time it took them to get the right answer,
- Course designers from the system. They can understand what is working and not working with an online course, so improvements can be made.
- Supporting content. As a student watches a course, they can mine information – articles, blogs, and definitions – related to what is being talked about in the lecture.
- Global community. Most online courses are available to anyone with an internet connection and computer, so foreign students are welcome. Diversity enriches the learning experience for everyone.
- Finely tuned, consistent lecture. Professors concentrate on delivering the best possible lecture for active learning. (They are not encumbered by giving the same lecture over and over again.)
- Team of experts. Most online courses have a team of experts – a professor, guest speakers, and professionals – who work together to give the best instruction.
- Continual learning opportunity. Professionals take online courses to continue building skills and knowledge, and are not necessarily earning a degree – “an education equivalent to booster shots” (page 44).
- Personalized learning experience (only when there is a limited class size). Based on feedback from the system, a professor tailors specific lesson plans to individual students. Personalized learning plans are making headway in early education.
One thing I like about online courses with a Skills-Based Approach is students take courses that relate to particular skills and knowledge related to their career. Students also have flexibility to take courses on their own schedule. And as mentioned above, professionals can take online courses throughout their career to continue building expertise with skills. Online learning promotes thinking skills rather than degrees.
 William G. Bowen (2013). Higher Education in the Digital Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.