Tag Archives: Online Education

The technology of higher education

For nearly 30 years, pundits have predicted that education technology would disrupt higher education. Online courses will reduce costs and create unprecedented access to higher education, so the argument goes. Likewise, adaptive learning will improve — or replace — the art of teaching as the right digital content is delivered at the right time to each individual learner.

It’s looking increasingly like none of these are the game-changers we expected. While online learning is commonplace, higher education remains firmly in the crosshairs of critics targeting high tuition, student debt, poor completion rates and unemployed and underemployed graduates — demonstrating a growing skills gap.

But all is not lost. It may be that technology’s transformation of higher education lies not in the transformation of teaching and learning, but the advent of a new digital language that connects higher education and the labor market and, in so doing, exerts profound changes on both.

The historic disconnect between higher education and the needs of the labor market is a data problem. In the past, data translating the discrete skills or competencies that employers need was not easily available or meaningful to faculty who create courses, or the students who take them.

Meanwhile, hiring managers have consistently relied on signals supported by anecdotal evidence, at best — for example, assuming that philosophy majors from Brown made terrific analysts, or that teachers with master’s degrees performed better in the classroom.

Today, technology is changing the relationship between education and the workforce in four distinct ways.

First, competency data is becoming increasingly available. Online psychometric assessments, e-portfolios and micro-credentials are surfacing student competencies beneath the level of the terminal credential (i.e. degree). In addition, many colleges and universities are in the process of migrating to competency-based models, which will allow for the output of transcripts that better describe the competencies of graduates.

No longer will students fork over $200,000 in tuition for a standard four-year bundle.

Second, there is a clear path for employers to interact with this new data. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are incorporating analytics and will soon begin gathering new competency data as inputs for assembling candidate pools for human hiring managers to evaluate. As such, ATS is transitioning from a backwater of HR technology to Application Information Systems that will radically reduce the preponderance of false positives and false negatives in candidate pools, thereby significantly reducing bad hires that cost employers about $15,000 each, on average.

Third, this data is being extracted and parsed into competency statements by algorithms originally developed for purposes other than human capital development (i.e. search, e-commerce). On the other side, the same algorithms are extracting and parsing competency statements from job descriptions, then matching the two.

Of course, regardless of the caliber of student competency data, matching students with jobs only works if employers’ job descriptions accurately capture and describe key competencies. So the fourth major development is the advent of “People Analytics” technologies, allowing employers to track employee performance with a feedback loop to job descriptions. The result is that job descriptions continuously improve, moving from vague and data-poor to precise, data-rich renderings of the profiles of top performers.

Together, these four technological developments will close the gap between higher education and the labor market and usher in a new era in human capital.  The resulting “competency marketplaces” will help students understand the jobs and careers that they’re most likely to match and help employers identify students who are on track, or on a trajectory to match in the future.

Competency marketplaces will inform students’ direction through postsecondary education by providing a human capital GPS to help them select which credentials, courses, assessments, projects or virtual internships move them most efficiently and effectively toward target professions or employers.

The core of the competency marketplace is the candidate or student profile. Your profile will include your resume and transcript, along with badges, projects, the results of standardized tests taken over the course of your life (SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT) or new industry- or employer-specific micro-assessments. Students with more comprehensive profiles (i.e. more competency data) will be given preference by employers via the ATS. Colleges and universities that fail to recognize this may find that their students are at a relative disadvantage in the labor market and, over time, may face enrollment pressure.

The market for competencies will ultimately put unprecedented pressure on colleges and universities to unbundle the degree. As employers move to competency-based hiring, many will determine that degrees are not a priority — or even required for certain jobs. Over the next few years, degrees will become MIA in many job descriptions.

Unbundling doesn’t mean liberal arts will disappear. It may be that liberal arts courses provide high-value competencies that predict career success across many professions. But it does mean that revenue per student will decline, and that colleges and universities will need to work a lot harder and be a lot more creative to capture the lifetime value of student-consumers. No longer will students fork over $200,000 in tuition for a standard four-year bundle. Postsecondary education will become increasingly affordable. Completion rates will rise. Placement will improve.  This is how technology will ultimately disrupt higher education.

While this seems like the stuff of science fiction, it is not far off. Millions of new job descriptions are posted online every month. Colleges and universities are issuing millions of micro-credentials, millions of students are posting work in e-portfolios. Thousands of employers use Applicant Tracking Systems that are transitioning to Applicant Information Systems.

As the new language of competencies disrupts higher education, we will need to be vigilant to protect the central role that our colleges and universities play in civil society and economic development. At the same time, colleges and universities must take no comfort in the fact that prior predictions of technological disruption have proven false. This time really is different.

Featured Image: Andrea Danti/Shutterstock

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Babson Study: Distance Education Enrollment Growth Continues

The 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Pearson, WCET, StudyPortals, and Tyton Partners, reveals the number of higher education students taking at least one distance education course in 2015 is up 3.9% over the previous year. Growth, however, was uneven; private non-profit institutions grew by 11.3% while private for-profit institutions saw their distance enrollments decline by 2.8%. These and other findings were published today in a report titled, “Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States.”

The post Babson Study: Distance Education Enrollment Growth Continues appeared first on Faculty Focus.

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MOOCs Rise from the Ashes

The MOOCs seem to have faded from view. In large part this is because they were so relentlessly overhyped when they first appeared. But now various forms of online education have begun to get traction in the marketplace. An essay by Clay Shirky points out how online education is operating today and its implications for higher education. Continue reading

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Blended, Hybrid, Flipped, Online: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

This is my second post in a series exploring my journey to develop and teach a graduate “Multimodal Literacies” course for pre-service and in-service teachers based on the connected learning framework. You can see the first post here and my original inspiration here. Now that I have a sense of the conceptual and thematic organization of my course and have decided upon some focus texts, I am confronted with the task of setting up weekly structure and my methods for communicating content. Several of my colleagues have asked me whether, considering the multimodal subject I am

The post Blended, Hybrid, Flipped, Online: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off appeared first on DML Central.

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Beyond Textbooks and OER: reflecting on #OpenEd15

There has been no shortage of critiques of the open textbook focus at The Open Education Conference #OpenEd15 – I wasn’t at the conference but I followed the Twitter stream and participated in three virtually connecting sessions in which I met both pairs of keynote speakers. I have to say that the conference organizers’ really welcoming attitude towards the involvement of Virtually Connecting showed true commitment to expanding access and openness (thank you Clint Lalonde and David Wiley).


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Southern New Hampshire Partners With Coding Boot Camp

Southern New Hampshire University and the Flatiron School, a coding boot camp, today announced a broad collaboration. The university and the New York City-based education provider will seek to expand the use of Flatiron’s recently created online learning platform. They also will create a joint academic program, through which Southern New Hampshire’s campus-based students will take three years of courses at the university followed by six months of Flatiron’s web development curriculum and a paid apprenticeship during the final semester before graduation. Finally, the two partners will create an in-person coding boot camp at Southern New Hampshire’s Nashua campus.

“Our mission is focused on the success of our students. By offering this opportunity, we can position our students for career opportunities and future growth and success in their selected fields," said Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s president, in a written statement.

Southern New Hampshire and Flatiron also announced that they will apply to participate in a recently announced experiment the U.S. Department of Education is hosting. That program will allow a handful of accredited colleges to partner with boot camps to offer academic programs that will be eligible for federal financial aid.

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Less than two years after launch, U of Florida reboots online education initiative

The collapse of the partnership between Pearson and the University of Florida is the latest example of a mismatch between expectations and results, online education experts say.

The university said as recently as last month that it wished to renegotiate the terms of its agreement with Pearson, a mammoth 11-year deal that could have netted the company as much as $186 million to bring UF’s degree programs online (though Pearson officials dispute the size of that sum). This week, less than two years after the deal was signed, the university announced it would cancel the contract.

Come December, the university will “integrate UF Online more fully into core university operations,” according to an email that Evangeline J. Tsibris Cummings, assistant provost and director of UF Online, sent to university deans last week. The news was first reported by Politico Florida.

UF Online is now in a transitional phase as the university assumes responsibility for services such as admissions, advising and recruitment, and outsources others, such as marketing. In light of those changes, the university will “revisit” UF Online’s original business plan and formulate a new strategic plan for the venture, according to Cummings’s email.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Cummings said the changes demonstrate the university’s commitment to online education. Handling student support services in-house will also improve communication across the campus, she said.

“The future is bright for UF Online,” Cummings said. “We remain committed to online academic excellence.”

But the announcement has online education experts questioning the decision-making process behind UF Online and many of the parties involved, including the Parthenon Group, whose $300,000 study in 2012 recommended that the state expand its online education efforts; the Florida Legislature, which pushed the university to do so quickly and inexpensively; Pearson, for seeing another high-profile deal fall through; and the university itself.

“This represents a confluence of issues,” Max Woolf, a principal analyst at the higher education consulting and research firm Eduventures, said in an email. “The challenge of unrealistic goals set by the state legislature for out-of-state enrollments, the overpromising from Pearson to meet these desired outcomes and the agreement from the university that this was a reasonable and rational goal.”

The Parthenon Group, now known as Parthenon-EY, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Florida Board of Governors, the state university system’s governing body. A spokesperson for Governor Rick Scott referred questions to the university.

Florida is the latest institution to bet big on fully online education, only to see the plans change dramatically shortly thereafter. Similar storylines have played out at California State University, the University of California, Howard University, Rutgers University and other institutions. While no two conflicts are identical, many revolve around results failing to live up to expectations. At Florida, for example, the university and Pearson overestimated their ability to recruit out-of-state students.

UF Online has moved at a breakneck pace since being announced in 2013, and Pearson’s exit is only the latest twist. The university had seven months to get UF Online up and running to meet a legislature-imposed launch deadline of January 2014. Its inaugural director then resigned after two months, leaving the position vacant for more than a year. In the meantime, the university faced opposition from some faculty members, who declined to create online degrees, and struggled to recruit first-time-in-college students.

In addition to enforcing a tight deadline, the legislature also restricted UF Online’s ability to generate tuition revenue. By law, UF Online can charge in-state students only 75 percent of what residential students pay for tuition. For out-of-state students, however, “tuition may be set at market rates.” That means Florida residents pay $129.18 a credit hour, while nonresidents pay $552.62, or more than four times as much.

Out-of-state students have largely stayed away from UF Online, causing the university to badly miss its enrollment projections for that group. UF Online had hoped to enroll 315 out-of-state students during the 2014-15 academic year, but attracted only 90, according to a presentation to the Board of Governors.

UF Online reacted by admitting more in-state students — 1,229, compared to the projected 990 — but did not close the revenue gap. Although it topped its projected total enrollment by 15 students, UF Online’s tuition revenue came in $170,000 under target. Out-of-state students were supposed to supply 59 percent of UF Online’s revenue. Instead, they generated 9 percent.

“The lesson to be learned for the [online program management] providers is that even long-term contracts are not safe if you cannot execute on what you have promised,” Woolf wrote. “The lesson for the institutions is to set expectations at the outset with the OPM provider that are reasonable and rational rather than have to face a situation where no one is satisfied with the outcomes of the partnership and you have to unwind a contract within the first three years.”

UF Online Going Forward

Cummings, who became director on July 1, described the tuition rate and launch requirements as “challenges,” not “barriers.”

“The program is growing, and a big interest of mine is making sure that we are on a path to sustainable growth,” Cummings said. “As we grow, we have important decisions to make to ensure that we’re in it for the long term.”

The lackluster out-of-state student enrollment numbers did at least give the university an out. “Because [Pearson] missed that metric, we determined that a full termination made sense for us,” Cummings said.

Cummings also spoke appreciatively of Pearson’s role in launching UF Online. “Pearson is a proud partner of our history,” she said. “The fact that we are who we are is in part due to Pearson support.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Pearson acknowledged the challenges of launching UF Online but also pointed to some of its accomplishments. In addition to an 84 percent year-over-year increase in enrollments, the company also cited the $3.4 million online students saved by paying no more than 75 percent of on-campus tuition rates.

“Pearson is proud to offer programs that make higher education more accessible and affordable for students,” a spokesperson for the company said. “Pearson’s online program management services have been successful at a number of colleges and universities across the U.S. We have learned a great deal from the UF partnership that can be applied to helping both Pearson and other university customers improve their delivery of online options for students.”

Since UF Online missed its out-of-state enrollment target, the university will not have to pay Pearson a fee to terminate the contract, Cummings said. The university may yet purchase some “posttermination activities and assets” from the company, but Cummings declined to go into detail, citing ongoing negotiations.

The university still faces significant expenses in order to provide the same level of service as Pearson, however. At its peak, Pearson had about 35 employees working on the Florida partnership, a spokesperson for the company said.

The university plans to address that issue by consolidating in some areas and expanding in others, Cummings said. UF Online marketing will be merged into the university’s “overall branding wheelhouse,” handled by the marketing agency 160over90. Student advisers will take on additional duties. The university will also hire more staffers, including about five people to focus on recruitment, she said.

Another perk of partnering with Pearson was the company’s library of course materials and tutoring services, which students could get access to free. Once the contract is terminated, those perks disappear. Cummings said individual departments and faculty members will be free to assign course materials, meaning students could see an increase in technology fees.

The university plans to tackle those and other issues in its revised business and strategic plans, expected some time early next year.

“It’s a good thing that [UF Online] is merging into the support structure for the university, because ultimately this is part of the University of Florida’s future,” Cummings said. “I’m not concerned with a loss of identity. Rather, this is the University of Florida saying online is at the core of what it does.”

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