In the 2013 report “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” it was reported that the number of students taking online courses in 2012 grew at the slowest rate in a decade.
The report, based on a survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson and the Sloan Consortium, also found school leaders had a slightly more negative perception of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in 2013.
Negative backlash took headlines by storm in 2012 and 2013 when many top universities announced partnerships with providers of MOOCs such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity. And the not-for-profit organization Public Agenda claimed in a recent report that more than half of human resources professionals surveyed said they preferred applicants with traditional degrees from an average university over those with an online degree from a top university.
The implementation of MOOCs as a widely available option for students has even been called “McDonaldization” by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
But is this backlash fair and objective?
Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois-Springfield, considers such criticism unwarranted.
“People don’t realize that MOOCs are changing,” he says, as reported by US News. “If there is an important message to be shared it’s that MOOCs are different today than they were two years ago and they are going to be more advanced. They are going to evolve. There will be kinds of MOOCs that will do that very well.”
Jeff Seaman, co-author of “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States” and co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, echoes Schroeder’s statement. According to US News, he says that evolving perceptions of MOOCs could be tied to several factors. Administrators from schools that do not yet offer online courses may think the market is saturated. And they may have been influenced by the negative backlash that was so highly publicized two years ago.
An article in The Huffington Post outlines some of the political obstacles that online education faces on its road to becoming a widely embraced option for students. Writer Lisa Nielsen says, “Though the technology exists to provide these [online learning] environments for students, sadly, few students have, or know they have, such opportunities available for them. For most students, they exist, or are unable to exist, in an educational system stuck in the past that has not introduced them to such options. Why? There are several reasons, which include being in a system that requires us to follow outdated policies that may have worked for yesterday’s students, but do not work today. Changing these policies in a bureaucratic, slow-moving political climate can be a tremendous task.”
It is a good thing, then, that this bureaucratic political climate has not thwarted all institutions of higher education. Many embrace online education and what it can do for students of a new generation.
ICDC College, which offers both campus-based and online courses, is one such forward-thinking institution. In support of its online complement of post-secondary offerings, an ICDC College spokesperson says, “We take a lot of pride in giving our students all the tools necessary for their success, even with the increasing online enrolment across the nation.”
Though the 2013 report shows that growth in enrolment in online courses has slowed, by no means does this suggest they are falling out of favour. The report speaks of growth, and shows that the 7.1 million students who took at least one online course during the study period represents a 6.1 percent increase over the previous year.
Online education is a particularly attractive option for non-traditional students such as older adults, working professionals, and parents. Learning and participation can be done at a distance and at their own convenience.
Lou Adler, a hiring expert and CEO of The Adler Group, says that for those already employed in stable jobs, completing online courses can be a valuable way to stay abreast of the latest in their field. According to Business Insider, he says, “If someone is past the entry-level kind of positions, if they’re constantly evaluating some of the latest data trends or technical trends related to their position, I would give that person a plus.”
For university-level students who have not yet embarked upon a career path, there are additional advantages to online courses such as the ones offered at ICDC College. Such advantages include opportunities to pursue a passion or vocation that may not fit in with the instructional model of the traditional school system, and the ability to share thoughts and ideas without having to compete with other students.