Top universities will offer full degrees online in five years

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Plazma Inferno!, Jul 6, 2016.

  1. Plazma Inferno! Ding Ding Ding Ding Administrator

    Founded in California four years ago, Coursera has become one of the world's biggest providers of "massive, open, online courses" - known as Moocs. This online platform currenty has 20 million students following courses from about 145 prestigious universities and institutions around the world.
    But most of the online courses have been short units that give students a certificate, rather than a full degree or credits towards a degree.
    That may change within five years, according to the founder of a leading US online university network, because leading universities, currently hesitant about their "reputation", will offer fully accredited undergraduate courses online, making online degrees "more affordable and accessible".
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    This is someone with a strong vested interest, trying to talk up the prospects of their business. I think it is rubbish. MOOCs do not support the student to anything like the extent that a proper course does. The dropout rates, even of those who start well, show this. More here:

    This person does not say a word about how the various limitations and criticisms of MOOCs are being overcome. Unless they are, these courses will continue, quite rightly, to be a very poor relation to a proper university degree course. She alleges it is "protection of the brand" that is holding universities back from offering full degrees on-line, as if this is somehow fuddy-duddy and reprehensible. She does not acknowledge that a large part of "protection of the brand" in any company is based on quality assurance on the product. Same will apply here.
    Yazata and Plazma Inferno! like this.
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  5. Goliathus Registered Member

    Alot of people are stopping going to university because they can learn everything online. Expecially computer related unis.
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  7. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    And they will get a crap education. There is no substitute for discussion with others following the same course of study.
  8. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    I guess that depends on what you mean by 'education'. When I went to University, it was a fantastic life-experience. As for the courses, I don't know. I did a B.S. with double majors in chemistry and biology. My University was ranked 10 in the world - at that time. Were these classes taught well? How would I know? They were okay. But I'm sure there are much better more integrated pedagogy and learning methods. Not to mention, have you been to University lately? My gawd. What a total waste of money for most students.

    Is a life experience worth 20K? 50K? 250K?

    I think online learning is going to be fantastic. I'm really looking forward to 3D immersion learning. What's going to be even better, once regulatory capture is reduced, the private market can certify and set the standards - this means the concept of university itself becomes relatively mute. If anything, Universities may do better, maybe even refocus onto learning.

    That may or may not involve a brick and mortar building.
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    They already do! I've been working in the field of distance learning since the 1990's. Here in the United States, hundreds of universities offer thousands on online degree programs. Most of them aren't the prestige universities, but a few are relatively high profile. Mostly, they offer masters degrees, but there are bachelors degrees and a few doctoral programs.

    For example, the University of Southern California (USNews ranks this one as #23 in the United States, ahead of all of the University of California campuses except Berkeley. So it probably qualifies as 'prestigious'):

    Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey isn't even remotely prestigious, but it specializes in online degrees and degree completion for people with lots of credits from all over but no degree to show for it.

    Florida International University (the Florida state university in the Miami area) has a whole assortment of online bachelors and masters programs, plus several free MOOCs open to anyone with an internet connection.

    The University of Southern Queensland in Australia isn't prestigious either, but it's widely known for its extensive online degree programs. Of particular interest to Sciforums readers might be an online MSc in Astrophysics.

    In the United Kingdom, the University of Wales Trinity St. David probably can't be considered a 'top' university, but it's respectable and serviceable and it specializes in distance learning. (I believe that most of its students study remotely.) It offers 'taught postgraduate'/masters degrees in many humanities subjects by distance learning:

    Wales-Trinity St. David also offers 'research'/PhD (and sometimes MPhil) degrees by distance learning as well. The school's strength is in religious studies (there's an interesting religious experience research unit) and medieval studies with a Welsh/Celtic emphasis, I think.

    'MOOC' is not synonymous with 'online degree programs', despite how many newspaper and magazine stories try to convince us they are.

    The 'MOOC' started at Stanford University, when a star computer science professor there offered what he called an online course in Artificial Intelligence for free online, open to everyone with no entrance requirements, that supposedly offered those who completed it a Stanford University certificate of completion. The course was mobbed and got hundreds of thousands of students from all around the world, all eager to add a Stanford University certificate to their resumes. The delivery model consisted of recorded video lectures from the professor's Stanford class that the online students could watch, then a set of automated computer graded exams for them to take. Anyone who passed them all were promised the certificate. I don't believe that there was any contact with live Stanford faculty and only minimal opportunity for students to communicate with each other. The whole thing was totally automated.

    Unfortunately, the professor apparently hadn't gotten the approval of the university administration to do this. The university didn't know that he was offering a certificate program worldwide to hundreds of thousands of students in the university's name until they read it in the news.

    They weren't happy. So the experiment was never repeated at Stanford and the professor soon left that university and resurfaced at Google, in charge of their AI robot cars project. (So he certainly landed on his feet.)

    But the extraordinary publicity surrounding this little adventure caught the attention of other educational entrepeneurs who realized that offering a combination of recorded lectures and automated exams was an extremely low cost (no campus! no professors!) and hugely scaleable way of offering continuing education. So various companies got into the 'MOOC' business.

    Does it offer its students (20 million of them?) real two-way contact with and mentoring by professors at the "prestigious universities"? Or does it just offer its own certificates based on recordings of lectures delivered at those universities?

    As I mentioned above, hundreds of universities already offer online degrees. But theses are not totally computerized 'MOOCs'. Online classes are typically taught by a professor at the university. Students are provided with lectures in video and/or written form. But unlike a MOOC, they are given the opportunity to communicate with the professor and with other students, often using some specialized course-delivery variant on the kind of discussion board software that Sciforums uses. Many programs require students to participate in threaded faculty-led class discussions and in one-to-one e-mail discussion with the professor. Grading is by participation (in group projects in some cases), exams (sometimes online, sometimes proctored at nearby schools) and by submission of written papers.

    But these are not MOOCs. They aren't 'massive', enrolling thousands or hundreds of thousands of students. And they aren't 'open', since they typically have the same entrance requirements as a university's classes offered in its own classrooms. The only difference between on-campus and online classes is that students don't have to sit in classrooms to hear lectures or to participate in class discussions, and don't need to physically visit the professor's office to talk one-on-one with to the professor.

    Frankly, I don't anticipate the more prestigious universities offering extensive undergraduate programs online in the near future. (People have been waiting for that to happen since online learning first appeared in the 1990's.) The prestige universities marketing hook is their supposed superior quality of education. So they aren't going to do anything that seems to subvert the perceived reputation of their brands. What schools like Stanford are selling at the undergraduate level is a complete finishing-school experience for highly selected children of the elites. Part of the attraction is sharing student housing with the sons and daughters of important government officials and corporate executives that turn into networking opportunities later in life. People often get jobs by knowing the right people.

    But less prestigious universities have already jumped into distance learning and can be expected to get even more involved as time goes on. Governments like distance learning because it makes higher education more available to populations in rural areas and to non-traditional-age students who are already working a job. (After all, champions of the new economy are always telling us that workers need to constantly retrain in in-demand skills and be ready to move into new fields.) The universities like it because it offers them a chance to increase their enrollments at relatively low cost, keeping their professors employed.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    I learned a lot in college by talking to other students. As much or more - in some areas especially - than in the classes. This was especially significant in areas where I was completely unfamiliar with entire viewpoints or fields of study, and in areas where my understanding was not as secure as I thought until challenged.

    Some people, and I am one of them, don't really know something until they have explained it to someone else. To learn something, teach it. This happens a lot in school with other people. On line?

    "Reading maketh a full man, writing an exact man, and conversation a ready man" - an old quote. I'm thinking the online stuff is going to short the writing and the conversation, and the reading isn't going to be worth as much in consequence. Full, but ill-packed, I'm thinking.
  11. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Yes I agree with this. The UK Open University started offering degrees via distanced learning back in the 60s. It was a success, but they did realise you needed arrangements for people to meet and talk about their subject, too. (It fact their summer workshops became notorious for extramarital sexual liaisons, too, but that's human nature for you.) One of the problems was the dropout rate - it is really hard work doing degree level study and people found it hard to stay motivated.

    I think on-line learning can be good, but you do need to discuss what you think you have learnt. Sharing the excitement, being corrected when you've gone off the rails, or just hearing another viewpoint, is what makes learning come alive, in my opinion. And that provides the motivation when things get tough and you feel like giving up.
  12. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    It's the same problem as with home schooling. The interaction with other human beings is as important as the raw data that gets inscribed on your brain.
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Distance learning isn't for everyone.

    One variable is who the students are. Distance learning might not be the best choice for traditional-age undergraduates, for 18-year-old's fresh out of high-school. On the other hand, it might reduce the sex, drugs and drinking that ruin so many undergraduate careers when kids first live away from home.

    Distance learning is probably more appropriate for older adult students who already have jobs, particularly for individuals already employed in the fields that they will be studying. (Their employment would address the professional socialization aspect.)

    What's more, distance learning is probably more appropriate for continuing education than for ab-initio training. That's why so many distance learning degree programs are at the masters degree level.

    Another important variable is the nature of what is being studied. Online education works best for lecture courses, since listening to lectures, talking to professors and participating in class discussions can take place just as easily over telecommunications as face-to-face. But online classes are a lot more problematic in courses that require lots of laboratories and hands-on training. I'm not convinced that chemistry, microbiology, medicine or sculpture are subjects that can be effectively taught online. But philosophy, history and literature probably are.

    A great deal depends on how interactive the programs are. How do students and professors communicate? Do students have the ability to communicate and have discussions with other students? Typically, the more interaction that's available, the better.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016

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