Rivard, R. (2013) Measuring the MOOC drop-out rate Inside Higher Education, March 8
A good, balanced discussion about how ‘success’ in MOOCs should be measured, with some data about completion rates.
March 8, 2014
Rivard, R. (2013) Measuring the MOOC drop-out rate Inside Higher Education, March 8
A good, balanced discussion about how ‘success’ in MOOCs should be measured, with some data about completion rates.
Rivard, R. (2013) Learning how to teach, Inside Higher Education, March 5
This is perhaps the most encouraging item of news about MOOCs so far (and also illustrates that edX is taking a more thoughtful approach to MOOCs than Coursera.)
The Provost of Harvard, Alan Garber, noted that because of the wide exposure that MOOCs offer to academics, they are wanting to ensure that their teaching matches or exceeds that elsewhere. “Our faculty are extraordinarily successful,” Garber said. “They are used to winning. And they don’t want to lose this game.”
At the same time, the Director of edX, Anant Argawal, admitted that there is certain learning sciences research that many faculty, including himself, had long ignored as they focused on their own disciplinary fields. “To me, these papers should be must-reads,” he said.
However, it is a pity they still haven’t discovered the mass of prior research on online learning, but at least there is a recognition here that MOOCs can and should improve their pedagogy.
Di Xu & Shanna Smith Jaggars (2013) Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas New York: Community College Research Center, Columbia University
Using a dataset containing nearly 500,000 courses taken by over 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State, this study examines how well students adapt to the online environment in terms of their ability to persist and earn strong grades in online courses relative to their ability to do so in face-to-face courses.
Some populations of students—for example, those with more extensive exposure to technology or those who have been taught skills in terms of time-management and self-directed learning—may adapt more readily to online learning than others. In addition, some academic subject areas may lend themselves to highquality online learning experiences more readily than others
Primary analyses were performed on a dataset containing 51,017 degree-seeking students who initially enrolled in one of Washington State’s 34 community or technical colleges during the fall term of 2004. These first-time college students were tracked through the spring of 2009 for 19 quarters of enrollment, or approximately five years. The dataset, provided by the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), included information on student demographics, institutions attended, and transcript data on course enrollments and performance.
First, it is encouraging to see a detailed quantitative assessment of the types of students taking online courses, and their relative performance. This report needs to be read in full, and carefully. It is good that it is based on a significantly large enough sample that one can have confidence in the generalizability of the results (at least in the U.S. two-year college sector). The study was very well carried out and is a model for quantitative analysis of student differences.
Furthermore, I am not surprised or even concerned about these findings. For instance, from my own experience of online teaching, I would agree that ‘students are not homogeneous in their adaptability to the online delivery format and may therefore have substantially different outcomes for online learning.’ Online learning doesn’t suit everyone, and it is valuable to have some research that helps identify the more ‘at-risk’ online learners.
One can put forward a number of reasons why online students, on average, are likely to struggle compared with face-to-face students. Students who choose an online course are likely on average to have less time for study that those attending regularly on campus. Second, for many online students, the mode of study will be unfamiliar, which means making more adaptation to a different way of learning.
My one quibble is that, although the results are clearly significant statistically (as is almost inevitable in large samples), the differences are quite small (96% vs 91% completion rates, for instance.) Thus I do challenge the authors’ conclusion that ‘most students had difficulty adapting to the online context.’ If 91% complete the course, then most students did not have difficulties sufficient to deter them from completing successfully their courses. That seems a pretty good adaptation level to me.
I also have a concern that these results will be misinterpreted. This should not mean that men, Blacks and young people should be discouraged from taking online courses, but that we should be taking more care to ensure that students who do take online courses are better prepared, with particular attention being paid to those likely to be at most risk. This may mean, for instance, gradually introducing students to online learning in a deliberate way throughout a program. This study does suggest those most likely to be at risk.
Lederman, D. (2013) Who benefits from online Ed? Inside Higher Education, February 25
In an earlier post, I listed the seven ‘aha’ moments that have been the most seminal ‘discoveries’ in my researching and working in educational technology. This is the third of seven posts that discuss why I believe these ‘discoveries’ to be important, and their implications specifically for online learning. The others to date are:
2. God helps those who help themselves (about educational technology in developing countries).
What was the discovery? (1978)
Everyone learns better from media and technologies that allow them to study anywhere, at any time. In particular the ability to repeat and revise recorded material makes learning much more effective than live, synchronous teaching, for any learner who requires flexibility in accessing educational opportunities.
Which are synchronous and which are asynchronous technologies?
From the table above, it can be seen that synchronous technologies include both one-way (broadcast) technologies, such as lectures, radio, broadcast television, and Webcasts, and two-way (interactive) technologies such as face-to-face seminars, audio-conferencing, video-conferencing, web conferencing, and virtual worlds. The unifying feature of synchronous technologies is that they take place in real time; thus both teachers and students have to be communicating together at the same time (but not necessarily in the same place.)
Asynchronous technologies include both one-way (broadcast) technologies such as print, audio-cassettes, podcasts, video-cassettes, lecture capture, web sites, DVDs, databases, web streaming including YouTube videos, and xMOOCs, and two-way (interactive) technologies such as written assignments, e-mail, online discussion forums, learning management systems, e-portfolios, blogs, search engines,cMOOCs, and other social media such as Facebook. Synchronous ‘content’ can be made available ‘asynchronously’ through recording.
How did this discovery come about?
To be honest, this insight really came from work by my colleagues at the Open University, Hans Grundin, Duncan Brown, Nicola Durbridge and Stephen Brown. As part of the Audio-Visual Media Research Group, we were tracking student participation in the television and radio broadcasts that accompanied the Open University courses. The latest technology in the early 1970s was the battery-operated radio cassette player (the Sony Walkman did not arrive until 1979). This allowed students to set a timer which would automatically record a radio program on to an audio cassette. The research indicated that increasingly students were recording the radio programs to listen to them later, but more importantly they were rating the cassettes as significantly more useful to their studies than the radio transmission.
There were many reasons for this:
As a result the university started up an audio-cassette library service, whereby students could order a cassette if they missed a program and have it mailed to them. Also the university started designing audio-cassettes that were not broadcast but accompanied the printed material that was the core of the studies. Instructors began taking advantage of the ‘affordances’ of the cassette technology, in several ways:
In the end, the audio cassettes became so popular that by 1980 the BBC/OU almost entirely stopped broadcasting radio programs directly linked to course units .
When the video-cassette recorder arrived in the late 1970s, we found exactly the same pattern. The cassettes were rated more highly than the television broadcasts, and at one time the university was operating a system whereby more than 200,000 audio and video cassettes a year were being shipped out to students.
Why is this significant?
Because it suggests that asynchronous online learning is almost always better for learners requiring flexible learning than classroom teaching or ‘live’ broadcasts. In particular, despite the different ‘affordances’ of different media, there are some common advantages across all asynchronous technologies. In particular, students have greater control over asynchronous technologies, enabling them to fit their learning more easily into the rest of their lives, and also to repeat, and practice, until they can achieve mastery.
However, there are circumstances where there are advantages in synchronous teaching. One obvious example is teaching oral language skills. Real-time communication in a foreign language is an important competency, so while recordings can help, students will need to practice in real time. There are circumstances where a live lecture or classroom can be more effective, for instance when trying to build a sense of community with a class, to provide an overview or summary of a whole course, or to provide inspiration or motivation to students.
Furthermore, as with all media, there are other variables which may have a large influence on effectiveness. For instance, a well-managed face-to-face seminar is likely to result in greater learning than a poorly managed online discussion forum; quality matters. Students looking for a campus-experience and direct social contact with other students are more likely to benefit from synchronous communication opportunities such as lectures and seminars.
But I woud argue that over a very broad range of circumstances, learners will on balance benefit more from asynchronous technologies, because of the extent to which they can control the pace and place of learning, and this is of particular significance for distance and/or lifelong learners.
This is probably one of the most controversial of my aha moments. There are many instructors for instance who believe very strongly in the advantages of real-time teaching, such as a lecture or seminar. Others swear by webinars (which can of course also be recorded).
Thus your comments on this will be particularly appreciated, particularly if you have research evidence to support your views.
There are 300 research reports from the AVMRG at the Open University. They are now difficult to access, but the Open University library has a complete set of papers, from 1 to 300, preserved within the University Archive. They are catalogued in the main Library catalogue http://voyager.open.ac.uk/index.html where they can be found by searching for a related topic or by searching for “AVMRG”. Visitors to the Library are welcome to access the reports within the University Archive.
Much of the research is summarized in the following books:
Bates, A. (1986) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables
Bates, A. (2005) Open learning, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge.
FunTab Class 9.1 Android ICS Tablet: will 2013 be the year of the tablet?
In a previous post, I talked about the difficulties in making predictions in online learning. Bearing in mind the hazardous nature of this endeavour, here are my predictions – or perhaps better, I should say ‘forecasts’ – for online learning in 2013. The percentages are not probabilities in a statistical sense, but an estimate of the proportion of institutions in Canada that will move in these directions in 2013. Thus in (1) below, I forecast that for between 10-30% of Canadian universities and colleges, online learning starts to become a core activity affecting all its teaching areas during 2013.
The forecasts are listed in my order of importance, in terms of their likely impact on post-secondary education.
1. From the periphery to the centre: one year 10-30%; three years: 30-50%; five years: 60-80%
This is the year online learning comes of age. If we take 1995 as the first year that online learning really took off with the development of web-based online courses, then online learning becomes 18 years of age in 2013 (you get to vote in federal elections at 18 in Canada – and even drink alcohol in some provinces.).
More importantly, I see 2013 as a terrific year for online learning, where it moves from being an interesting sidebar, operating on the fringes of an institution’s core, to becoming central to an institution’s operation. In particular, online learning will not continue to be supported or housed mainly in Continuing Education or Faculty of Extension, but will start to become integrated within the core activities of faculties and academic departments. If this is so – and I will provide some evidence that this is already beginning to happen – then another set of sub-forecasts fall from this.
2. Hybrid learning: one year 20-40%; three years: 40-60%; five years: 70-90%
What’s primarily going to drive this move to the centre is not MOOCs but hybrid learning, by which I mean the re-design of courses to integrate the best of online and campus-based teaching. This is being driven by dissatisfaction with very large lecture classes in first and second year university courses, the need for increased productivity/better learning in times of economic austerity, and faculty’s increasing familiarity with online learning in supporting regular lecture-based classroom teaching.
Initially in many institutions the move will be crude pedagogically, with an emphasis on video recording of lectures and flipped classes, or merely increasing the amount of online learning supporting regular classes. Over time, though, as instructors get more experience in hybrid learning, get more instructional design support, and greater pressure from the administration, full course re-design will increase, but major redesigns around hybrid learning may take as long as five years in many institutions. One reason for this slow adoption of re-design is the current lack of appropriate models for hybrid learning that have been tested and evaluated; this will change though as experience grows. Best practice for hybrid learning will emerge, as it did for fully online learning.
I see this move being quicker and more in-depth in Canada than the USA, because Canada has a large number of dual-mode institutions, i.e. institutions that for many years have had both on-campus and distance programs. Many of these institutions (and more importantly, many faculty) already have extensive experience in fully online courses, mechanisms to register, support and assess online learners, and the expertise and technical staff to facilitate a move to hybrid learning. However, the support staff are often not located within the academic departments, so some reorganization will be necessary, and this will take time.
Although the USA has a number of dual-mode institutions, especially among the land grant universities, it also has a great number of institutions that are either very new to online learning, or have outsourced or isolated online learning from the main campus activities, or even more so, some very prestigious institutions that have no online activities and are just waking up and smelling the coffee (mainly the MOOC brand). However, this slow start for many institutions may be mitigated by the tendency of US institutions to move faster and farther than Canadian institutions, once they get going. Thus Canadian institutions have a window of opportunity to become leaders in hybrid learning but it won’t be open very long.
3. A strategic institutional approach to online and flexible learning: one year 5-15%; three years: 15-25%; five years: 25-50%
I expect to see online learning increasingly appearing as strategic initiatives within institutional plans (where institutions actually have concrete plans, which is still a surprisingly small proportion). A good example of such a strategic approach is the University of Western Sydney, which has developed a detailed strategy for hybrid learning which includes the issuing of iPads to all first year students. I know at least five universities in Canada that are currently in the process of developing strategic initiatives or plans for online, hybrid or flexible learning. I know there are many more institutions out there starting to move in this direction.
There are several factors that will drive this trend during 2013:
However, many institutions will struggle with this development in 2013. Planning is often resisted by faculty as being bureaucratic (poorly done it can be) and as restricting their academic freedom (which is nonsense, but nevertheless a reality, unless they themselves get involved.) Furthermore, there are few places to go to get help with planning for online learning (my phone number is 604…..), other than private sector companies (see outsourcing below) who have their own interests. Nevertheless developing institutional strategies for online learning will become increasingly necessary.
4. Outsourcing: one year 0-10%; three years: 5-15%; five years: 15-25% (figures for Canada – double for USA)
The decision to outsource will vary from smart (it’s not a core activity and they can do it better and cheaper than we can) to not so smart (panic: we’re so far behind it’s the only way we can catch up.) In the long run, if online learning moves to the core, i.e. hybrid learning, then you can’t afford all the expertise to be externally owned and controlled. However, not all online learning activities are core or unique to an institution, so I do see outsourcing increasing in 2013, sometimes even for good reasons.
5. The evolution of MOOCs: the trough of disillusionment? One year: 20-30% of institutions; three years: 5-15%; five years: 10-20% (having reaching the plateau of productivity, the rest having exited the MOOC market).
Whither MOOCs in 2013? Well, first, they are not going away. Indeed in many ways I expect activity to ramp up in 2013 as many new MOOCs now in development begin to roll out. EdX in particular will be worth watching with a number of courses due out in the spring. I will be particularly interested in their design. Will the EdX courses reflect best practice in online learning (from the past) or new features based on recent research into cognitive learning, or new features drawn solely from the information sciences – or even best, a mix of all these? Or will it be the same old, same old recorded lectures?
I do expect MOOCs to survive over the long term, but they will be smaller, more diverse in design and targeting, and better integrated within ‘the system’ of post-secondary education. Indeed, some, such as the current cMOOCs, will continue to exist outside or in parallel to the formal education system. MOOCs will in essence fill a niche, or rather a range of niches, and important niches at that. They will not though have as much impact on institutions as the move to hybrid learning and fully online credit programs, although MOOCs will help to open up, but only a little, many previously ‘closed’ institutions. MOOCs will provide an accessible, low-cost source of up-dating for professionals, although there will still be increased demand for qualifications from lifelong learners through credit programming. MOOCs though, at least as we know them, will not solve the challenge of providing high quality, effective education to the billions in developing countries who most need it, because of language, lack of Internet access, and materials that are inappropriate for their learning needs.
The biggest impact of MOOCs from an institutional perspective in North America is likely to be on continuing education departments, many of whom for survival have relied on income from fees for their mainly non-credit courses. MOOCs will not destroy that market but will cause a lot of financial problems for these departments, especially where they have been offering non-credit online courses at a high fee. The response I think will be for many universities to charge a small fee for participation, and a larger fee for assessment, which will have a dramatic downward impact on numbers enrolling for MOOCs. Other institutions (or in particular instructors) will cap numbers (turning them into SOOCs – small open online courses) and run them in parallel with their credit courses, and some institutions may even offer credit to ‘open’ students who successfully complete such ‘capped’ courses, even if such students were not previously admitted to the university. (See University of Maine PI as an example). I also see some two-year colleges developing MOOCs, although they already have competition from providers such as Alison. Open universities are also likely to be impacted, but not as much as one might think, because they offer credit programs, and have in some cases been leaders in offering open educational resources (e.g. the UK Open University’s OpenLearn).
Lastly, we are likely to see some real innovation in online learning design in MOOCs. There is less risk in getting things wrong in a ‘free’ course, so more to be gained by an instructor in taking a risk, and the challenge of handling very large numbers requires innovation in software and design approaches, and a chance at getting large data sets and statistically significant results with the very large numbers involved (and no ethics committee to go through, in many cases.). The successful innovations will in most cases easily transfer over to credit online courses, so everyone will benefit.
At the same time, sadly many instructors will go on delivering video lectures, and will get away with it because of their research reputation or the brand name of the institution to which they are (often nominally) attached. However, MOOCs could and should be much more than this.
6. Open text books: One year: 25-35%: Three years: 45-55%; Five years: 90-95%
From a tiny seed a forest grows. In 2012 the provincial government of British Columbia announced an open text book scheme. In essence, it is asking BC institutions to come forward with proposals for developing open text books for large enrollment courses, such as Psychology 100. The program is modelled on a similar program from the state of California. The idea is that the text once developed will be available for free for all students taking Psychology 100 across the province, although it will be left to individual instructors to decide whether or not to use the open textbook or other commercially available textbooks.
If I was a betting man, I think this is the place where the OER movement will end up. It provides the means to combine open content, pedagogy, delivery, course individualization, student cost savings, and economies of scale. What’s not to like about this (unless you’re a commercial publisher?). Indeed, there are only two things that can really stop this from taking off: faculty intransigence (not invented here; interferes with my academic freedom); and political lobbying by publishers, which I don’t underestimate.
7. The year of the tablet? One year: 10-15%: Three years: 20-25%; Five years: 40-50%
Of all the predictions, this is the one where I have least certainty. Logically, tablet use should grow in 2013. It’s the obvious way to store and access textbooks, they provide any time anywhere access to learning, they are more portable and cheaper than laptops, and they could provide extraordinary interactivity with learning materials. Perhaps even more importantly in the long run, students can use tablets for collecting multimedia in-the-field evidence, and for creating multimedia demonstrations of their learning. One or two universities are already giving all first year students a free tablet, such as the University of Western Sydney.
However, there are many reasons why this is going to be slow progress in 2013:
So there are too many uncertainties to be confident about tablets taking off this year in post-secondary education, although I do believe their time will come.
8. Flexible course design (FCD) One year: 10-15%: Three years: 20-25%; Five years: 40-50%
We are now getting much more into speculation than evidence-based forecasting, so treat this as very tentative.
I see FCD as being somewhere in between the full, ADDIE-type instructional design model, and the complete lack of pedagogy in video lecture-based online and hybrid learning. It will be developed in response to VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments, which is a pretty good description of online learning these days.
I see FCD as being different from rapid instructional design (RID), although it shares some commonality. The focus in FCD is not so much to reduce the cost of course design, by shortening the process (as in RID), but to enshrine core pedagogical principles while responding to a constantly changing academic, technological and organizational context. FCD also tends to be more constructivist in its approach compared with the more behaviourist approach often found in RID. In particular, FCD will increasingly focus on the design and integration of learner-directed activities, such as project work and multimedia assignments, which cannot be easily controlled or specified in detail or in advance, and to integrating new and educationally relevant technologies as they become available. FCD will also not fight traditional teaching methods applied to online learning, but will work with faculty to gradually modify their practices to a more pedagogically sound approach over a period of time.
Watch Mexico. Mexico waxes and wains in online learning. For many years, Tec de Monterrey (private), Universidad de Guadalajara (public), and a number of other universities have had successful online programs, but these have reached less than 5% of post-secondary learners. However, the new President has promised a national online virtual university, and more significantly, has promised to open up Mexico’s telecommunications industry to more competition. The latter should result in the cost of Internet access declining rapidly from its very high current level, opening up a huge market for online learning, as currently less than 30% of the population have Internet access at home. I see 2013 as a year when the foundations are solidified for a rapid growth in online learning in subsequent years.
Asia (especially India)
Asia already has massive numbers of online learners, particularly in South Korea, Malaysia and China. India now has the Aakash 2 tablet, and a strategy for online science teaching through the Indian Institues of Technology, and is likely to expand its online teaching rapidly, although lack of infrastructure and Internet access remain huge barriers. However, the government of India is putting in place a national high speed network connecting the major universities and colleges. India also has a thriving e-learning service and course design industry, mainly focused to date on international and business services but which will be able to ramp up online learning in India very quickly as Internet access improves, mainly through university and college campuses also being opened up for off-campus students requiring online access. In terms of sheer numbers, then, India will continue to develop and evolve its e-learning activities.
10. Expect the unexpected: One year: 100%; Three years: 100%; Five years: 100%
However, there are also some known unknowns that perhaps we should discuss. (MOOCs are good examples – they were known in 2011, but the likelihood that they would take off in 2012 in the way they did was not known, at least by most pundits.) Here are some possible bogeymen to lie awake worrying about:
You could have fun adding to this list, but you get my point. There’s not much we can do about even the expected, never mind the unexpected, so really there’s no point worrying about it until it happens.
We’re in charge: creating our own future
First, you will note that I am more of a fox than a hedgehog. Most of these forecasts are a continuation of existing developments rather than startling new advances in online learning. Also the future is not going to be delivered to us; we need to create it ourselves. This means post-secondary institutions thinking through the role and purpose of online learning very carefully, rather than being driven by external and often hostile forces. However, post-secondary education is a slow moving machine, and change takes time.
Overall, though, you can see I am starting 2013 much more optimistically than for many years. Online learning will come of age, will become a central, core activity in most universities, will be strategically planned and managed, pedagogy will become more important, and learning as a result will become deeper, richer and more flexibly accessible. If all that happens in 2013, I will be more than pleased.
May your 2013 be as good as this if not better.
Now, given that more heads are better than one in forecasting, where do you see online learning going in 2013?
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