Leaders in Professional, Continuing and Online Education

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Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Director of the National Council for Online Education

Affordable and At-Scale

Affordable degrees at scale have arrived. The momentum behind this movement is undeniable, and its impact will be significant.

How many times have we been told that major change in our field is on the near horizon? Too many times, indeed.

The promises of technologies and practices have fallen short more often than not. Just seven years ago, I was part of the early MOOC movement and felt the pulsating potential of teaching thousands of students around the world in a single class. The “year of the MOOC” was declared in 2012. Three years later, skeptics declared that the MOOC had died an ignominious death with high “failure” rates and relatively little recognition by employers.

However, the skeptics were too impatient, misunderstood the nature of MOOCs and lacked the vision of those at Georgia Tech, the University of Illinois, Arizona State University, Coursera, edX and scores of other institutions that have persevered in building upon MOOCs’ premises to develop high-quality, affordable courses, certificates and now, degrees at scale.

No, these degrees are not free, but they are less than half the cost of on-campus versions. No, they are not massive in the hundreds of thousands, but they are certainly at large scale with many thousands enrolled. In computer science, the success is felt across the country.

Georgia Tech alone has enrolled 10,000 students over all in its online master’s program and is adding thousands of new students each semester in a top 10-ranked degree program costing less than $7,000. Georgia Tech broke the new ground through building collaborations among several partners. Yet, that was just the beginning, and many leading universities have followed.

Coursera now offers a dozen online degrees from top universities at half the normal tuition or less. Eight more degrees are currently offered through edX.

I recently attended the third “Affordable Degrees at Scale” symposium at Georgia Tech. This small, limited-invitation gathering provides an insider’s view of the technology, pedagogy, design and financial aspects of reinventing higher education in an affordable, effective and worldwide format. Sidebar conversations abound on how to fine-tune delivery, design, engagement and effectiveness. It has the feel of the gathering of start-up entrepreneurs who are sharing their “secret sauce” as well as their goals for new initiatives with peers whom they respect.

Much credit goes to Nelson Baker, dean of professional education at Georgia Tech and incoming president of UPCEA, who created this symposium. Along with Associate Dean Yakut Gazi, they brought together the national leaders in this field and created an open discussion atmosphere through the implementation of “Chatham House Rule” that protects anonymity and respects confidentiality in the symposium.

A highlight of each of the three symposia I have attended has been to share some minutes with Professor Ashok Goel, who is well-known for his creation of the virtual teaching assistant “Jill Watson,” and her later iterations as well as nano-tutors that populate his courses.

It is his work and the work of others who share his passion to bring effective learning practices to scale that has made “at-scale” learning possible by engaging students and meeting their needs through artificial intelligence. As AI technologies are deployed, there is the prospect that such programs will more fully offer personalized learning than on-campus programs.

This advancement in higher education is expanding rapidly. Know that these initiatives will impact your recruitment and enrollment in graduate programs in the coming years.

Master’s tuition at half price or less among top-ranked universities in at-scale programs with essentially unlimited capacity is a factor that all of higher education must consider. If your university is not engaged in planning for this, perhaps you should lead the discussion today.

This article first appeared October 31st, 2018 in Inside Higher Education Inside Digital Learning.

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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