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Adoption of massive open online courses to triple: study

Posting in Education

While only a small handful of educational institutions currently support the offering of massive open online courses (MOOCs), new projects are in the planning stages, and the number of offerings may soon triple. In addition, a record number of institutions now see online learning as essential to their course delivery strategies.

These are some of the findings of a newly released study published by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, covering the responses of more than 2,800 academic leaders. MOOCs, first pioneered by two Stanford professors in the fall of 2011, are delivered online, generally at no charge, to global audiences that may run into the hundreds of thousands of students. In most cases, certificates of completion are issued to students successfully completing the coursework.

The survey finds that while only a very small segment of higher education institutions (2.6%) are
now experimenting with MOOCs with a somewhat larger number in the planning stages (9.4%). For the most part, however, most institutions (55%) remain undecided. One-third have no plans at all for MOOCs at this time.

At the same time, while most academic leaders remain unconvinced that MOOCs "represent a sustainable method" for offering online courses, they do believe they open up new vistas for online learning.

With the rise of MOOCs and online learning, many individuals will have the capability to assemble their own curricula and skills bases, drawn from various institutions across the globe. It appears most academic leaders are okay with this emerging disruption. There appears to be some degree of support for MOOC credentials being presented to employers to certify knowledgeability among applicants or employees in relevant areas. As the Babson-College Board report notes, "academic leaders are not concerned about MOOC instruction being accepted in the workplace, but do have concerns that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees."

Overall, online learning in general has become a standard method of course delivery for most of the academic world. When the Babson-College Board report series began in 2002, less than one-half of all higher education institutions reported online education was critical to their long-term strategy. That number is now close to seventy percent.

In fact, the new survey shows some improvements in the perception of the relative quality of online instruction as compared to face-to-face. In the first report of the series in 2003, 57.2 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.  That number is now 77.0 percent, the survey finds. Only 23 percent now say the learning outcomes for online education "are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction."

Overall, the number of additional students taking at least one online course grew as much this year as it did last year. The number of students taking at least one online course increased by over 570,000, to a new total of 6.7 million. However, this trend may be reaching a plateau -- online enrollment growth rate of 9.3 percent, the lowest recorded in this report series. At this point, the proportion of all students taking at least one online course is at an all-time high of 32.0 percent.

(Photo: Stanford University News Department.)

— By on January 8, 2013, 12:20 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure