The Future of Online Education – the Google way

Online EducationInside Higher Ed reported earlier this week that that Google and edX, the online course provider created by Harvard University and MIT, are partnering to offer an open-source MOOC (massively open online course) platform. This means that virtually anyone will be able to create online course offerings, and the move is likely to cause further commotion in the race among online education providers. The joint edX/Google platform will be made available on, which will launch early next year, and enable anyone—universities, corporations and individuals alike—to create online courses.

Online Education Increase in Popularity despite Mixed Reviews

For the past couple of years we have all received mixed reviews and opinions from students, higher education professionals, and laymen about online courses and its effectiveness, but despite the skepticism and dismay the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning revealed that online enrollment rose by almost one million students from a year earlier, and that nearly 30 percent of all college and university students now take at least one online course. Online learning offers students easier access to education, as well as a more personalized, flexible, and customized learning experience, which explains its increasing popularity among a cross section of students including working professionals.

Along with the benefits, the phenomenal growth of online learning also presents an uncharted set of challenges for academic institutions, most of which are much more comfortable with the traditional classroom setting. It has spurred a new set of demands and expectations from a range of stakeholders including (domestic and international) students, instructors, regulatory institutions and advocacy groups. Given these new challenges, several factors are proving to be instrumental in shaping the way higher education institutions implement and improve upon the state of online learning.

On we are seeing an increased number of students expressing interest in obtaining an international degree through online courses – bypassing the expensive (and often disabling) part of international studies as well as the hassle of obtaining a visa, travel permits, insurance, etc. But online learning might not only change the traditional classroom experience but also the student definition – traditional in-state, out-of-state, and international student distinctions are being eliminated, and the corresponding fee structures for the respective groups are breaking down. Today, international students not only contribute significant economic value to their institutions, they also build bridges between the host country and other countries and bring global perspectives into classrooms… will the same be true in an online world?

Key Part of Google and edX Partnership

The key part of the Google/edX announcement is that the platform is open-source, which will allow not just educational institutions to create content, but employers, too. For years, and particularly during the recent economic downturn, corporations have asked (with a varying degree of, but often little success) higher education institutions to collaborate and create course offerings that are relevant to specific skill sets, employability and scalability – in order to get skilled employees matched up with employer’s needs faster.

The rise of online learning is arguably the most dramatic development in higher education in the past half century. Technology is transforming education, its impact continues to grow, and by embracing a solid framework for online learning higher education institutions are in a position to significantly improve student outcomes. I doubt the day is near when we can simply Google a college degree and be on our way to a good job or new career, but we will have new formats and options for learning, and they could be much more cost effective and skill-focused than they are today.

What is your take on online learning and how is your institution embracing (or not) the rapidly changing “marketplace”?

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