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  • Do my exam grades matter in the future?

    Not as much as they did. The written exam will be replaced by assessment through multimedia portfolios of student work. Students will be assessed not only for their knowledge and competencies, but also for a range of non-academic skills such as self learning, problem solving, communication and their ability to work collaboratively. There will also come into use a variety of accredited qualifications. Degrees and diplomas will continue, but a range of assessments, of formal and non-formal learning will evolve.

    The lifelong learning market will become larger than college. Aided by technology, a greater part of learning in this segment will be through self-learning, crowd-sourcing and collaboration. Such informal learning will gain greater acceptance and universities will find themselves under pressure to provide more flexible arrangements for recognition of informal learning. New methods of accreditation will be developed.

    One such method is the Digital Badge. The badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, competency or interest. Badges are offered by some online course providers and colleges on completion of a course. These badges, collected from multiple sources, online and offline, can be integrated with one's digital profile and displayed on social networking and job sites. They are becoming a new online standard to recognize and verify learning. The Open Badges system developed by Mozilla, is an open software any organization can use to create, issue and verify these digital badges. The future will see more innovations along these lines.

  • No one will talk about online learning in 2020

    This statement was made by the online and distance education expert Tony Bates. But unlike the opponents who see MOOCs as the next bubble, what Bates means is online learning will disappear as a separate construct. It will be so integrated with teaching and learning that talking about 'online' as separate from education will be like talking about classrooms as an option for college classes today - they will come to be synonymous. It is the purpose of the campus and the role of the teacher that will be discussed. With online learning becoming so accessible, flexible and in future, hopefully accredited, the big changes are likely to be in the traditional colleges of today.

    Enrollment in college will decrease, governments will support courses with cost-effective online delivery options. Some institutions of higher education will be unable to survive the penetration of technology. Those that do, will do so by radically transforming themselves in the next few years. Students will be offered a range of choices of how they can access learning. Programs and courses will be designed to accommodate flexibility of access. Students will be able to decide whether to study on campus, over the internet, or combine the two methods. The future will be about choices.

  • High-tech without high-touch is not effective

    Massive Open Online Courses are an evolution of the textbook, and not the course itself, according to Philip Stark, Professor and Chair of Statistics at University of California, Berkeley. They are multimedia reference materials. But reference materials alone do not comprise a course. Students need personal interaction with faculty and classmates, something that online forums and social media cannot replace. Public online discussion may pass off misinformation as information, whereas classroom discussion modulated by the instructor in person results in understanding and mastery.

    Coming from a professor who has taught hybrid courses for 16 years and online courses for 6 years, the point carries more weight. Professor Stark was involved in UCB's first official online courses and in several edX MOOCs that saw upto 17% completion rate. He agrees that MOOCs do offer the world something of value, but they cannot replace a college course. The content from the online courses can be used to enhance the classroom lectures. They are rich instructional materials, and complement face-to-face discussions and problem solving sessions in the classroom. MOOCs are valuable in that they allow this flipping of the classroom.

  • Goodbye, lectures

    Many a student's wishful thinking will soon come true. According to the e-learning expert Tony Bates, by 2020 courses solely based on lectures will disappear. CDW-G's 2012 Learn Now, Lecture Later Report finds that only 38% of students want to learn through the lecture model. Most students want more technology in class and a greater mix of learning models.

    When textbooks, encyclopedias, images, video, even recorded lectures from world universities are openly available to all, the lecturer's role as the source of information is greatly altered. Students are becoming more responsible for finding, evaluating and sharing knowledge. Collaborative and experiential learning is prevalent. So the lecturer is no longer required to lecture, but can use class hours more effectively, providing individualized support, forging a closer relationship with the students and possibly imparting interest and enthusiasm for the subject.

    According to National Training Laboratories, average student retention through lectures is less than 10%, but the rate progressively rises through reading, demonstration, discussion, practice and teaching others. Eric Mazur, physics professor at Harvard University experienced this first hand when he found that even after a semester of introductory physics, students held the same misconceptions as they had at the beginning of the term. They had improved at handling equations and formulas and did well on textbook-style problems, but could not apply it to real-world events that demanded a real understanding of the concepts behind the formulas. Mazur twice tried to explain a concept to the class, but even after ten minutes, the students remained confused. Then he suggested that they discuss it with each other. The 150 students in class started talking to each other, and in three minutes, they had figured it out. This made Mazur reinvent the course, dropping the lecture model and engaging students in the learning/teaching endeavor.

    This concept of the flipped classroom is being adopted more and more. In future, the lecture will be reserved for course introduction and conclusion, conferences and special occasions.

  • MOOCs and the developing world

    MOOCs may have a number of drawbacks, such as the lack of personal interaction, low completion rate, and absence of accreditation, but in a case such as Pakistan, where 24 million out of the 25 million in the age group of 17-23 do not have access to a university, MOOCs hold out hope.

    According to Dr Javaid Laghari, former chairperson of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission, the country needs to increase its accessibility to higher education, but does not have the resources. Along with low cost and reliable internet connection and computers, online education can be a great learning tool for women who study from home, those who need to hold a job, and for under-developed areas. Its potential to lead to enhanced entrepreneurship can benefit the unemployed in the country. MOOCs have a future in Pakistan, says Dr. Laghari, and the government, universities and social media must bring about awareness of MOOCs to maximize learning. Then part of the 96% currently left out of college may earn a degree too.

  • Can MOOCs fix the challenges in US college education

    The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology thinks so. A December 2013 report by PCAST identifies technological opportunities to address the challenges in college education in the US, and make it more affordable and effective.

    • The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250% over the past three decades, while average family income has grown by 16%.
    • 52% of high school graduates from low income families immediately enrolled in college. From high income families, 62% enrolled.
    • Over 40% of students enrolled in college do not complete a degree within 6 years.
    • MOOCs offer scalable classes, real time assessment and feedback, increased connectivity and continuous improvement of course content.
    • 69% of educational institutions reported in 2011 that online education is critical to their long-term strategy, up from 49% in 2002.
    • 1.6 m students were enrolled in atleast one online course in 2002. It rose to 6.7 m in 2011.

    PCAST recommends to the US Federal government to -

    • encourage innovation in the educational technology sector by letting the market work.
    • encourage the regional accrediting bodies to recognize that many standards normally required for an accredited degree should be modified in the online arena, and
    • provide grants for research on the effectiveness of online education and consider sponsoring the development of a national exchange mechanism for the data produced by various experiments.
  • A 19th century model that still flourishes

    Industries seldom reform themselves, and real competition comes from the outside, according to professor, author and columnist Glenn Reynolds. He describes the current system as an assembly line system that churns out assembly line workers. The model is slow, rigid and expensive. It is one of the few 19th century business models that we see flourishing in the 21st century. Everyone gets processed in the same way, and hopefully most of them emerge with a certificate.

    In his book “The New School” Reynolds predicts that technology can save higher education. In future, there will be no more 'going to school'. Schools will not be a designated building students go to by bus, the ringing of a bell will not sound the start or end of a class. Classes will happen online, and students can shape an educational program that suits them.

    Reynolds illustrates the case with his daughter’s experience. She calculated that out of every 8 hours spent in school, only about 2.5 was actually spent in learning. She quit school, enrolled in an online high school, graduated at 16, and was accepted by a university. Meanwhile, her flexible schedule allowed her to take on a research job as well. Self-paced online learning might not work for everyone like this, and Reynolds suggests flipping the classroom for such students. Listening to lectures online and working on problems under close supervision of a teacher is to take advantage of mass delivery where it works best, and to allow individualized attention where it helps most.

  • Online education predicted... in 1934!

    Yes, in 1934, Walter Dill Scott, president of Northwestern University, predicted that technology would transform the college experience. Distance learning would become common, students would learn from home, and research would be carried on by scholars at great distances, all due to advances in communication technology.

    He had understandably missed out the 'I' in today's 'ICT' (Internet and Communication Technology), but he had got the rest of it amazingly correct - 80 years later, we find communication technology is transforming college education. Students learn from home, using any device that connects to the internet. MOOCs and online programs take education to the learner's home. Research can be carried on online, and we witness collaborations that span all the time zones today.

  • Now everyone can get an Ivy League education

    You are invited to study the best courses available in the world’s top universities. Prestigious universities with single digit student acceptance rates are opening up their classrooms via the web for anyone anywhere to study for free.

    Yale University has initiated plans to launch the best of its classroom courses on line. It began in January 2014 by launching its course on Roman Architecture on Coursera, marking Yale's first venture with this popular MOOC platform. The course has attracted 40,000 students worldwide and will be followed by three other courses that showcase the best of Yale. The lecturers offering these courses exemplify Yale's excellence in scholarship and have prior experience in online teaching.

    If other universities adopt this approach of making their very best courses available online, global standards for higher education will rise enormously.

    A few of the benefits:

    • Exciting, high quality content would be available to learners world wide.
    • It is a great way for an institution to build relationships, and to support lifelong learning, with their own alumni.
    • It also serves as advertisement for universities on a global scale. It alerts potential students to the quality of education they might experience as full-time students at the institution.
    • This recognition of an institution's best courses reinforces the institution's own, best values. It honors and encourages faculty members.
    • Wider comparison of course quality, and consequently, improvement is possible.
    • A world virtual university formed with this content would offer a curriculum that excels the best now available anywhere in the world.
  • Get better grades studying with friends from around the world

    Combined study with friends, apart from adding an element of fun to learning, makes it more effective. StudyRoom is a tool designed to facilitate this kind of group study online. Only the group is not restricted to classmates from one's school, but to anyone, anywhere in the world who wishes to learn.

    The typical student's day consists of classes, exams, homework, friends and playtime, but the one constant is a digital device. Be it with a phone, tab or a computer, students are online for a considerable time of the day. With learning becoming a constant and life long requirement today, Luma Education, Inc. has developed StudyRoom, a free tool that recreates the classroom experience online, so that students can collaborate and learn more effectively.

    Students can virtually meet their classmates or anyone else learning the same course from around the world. They can share notes from class, form study groups to prepare for exams, ask for help with assignments, and receive clarifications. Since learning increases by teaching as much as by studying, SR encourages students to help each other, answer questions, collaborate and share their knowledge. Specially during midterm and the final exams, SR witnesses impressive engagement among students.

    Tools like SR have taken learning and teaching to one's home, dorm, library, cafeteria or anywhere else. Studying with others across continents and time zones is made possible. Founder and CEO Emerson Malca says that SR focuses on the needs of the students. It is active on social networking sites, and regular posts keep students updated. SR consists of 60,000 students connected through 500 courses. These numbers are set to increase in 2014. SR is being officially launched at 5 universities (UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, SFSU, SJSU and Penn State) in January 2014. "Our goal is to really allow students to connect with all their classmates to help each other out, share notes and other resources and make it super easy for them to find other students to form study groups. Students can post on their course wall and in a matter of seconds a handful of their classmates have already seen their post, increasing the likelihood of getting a response very fast." affirms Malca.