Why Online Learning In Higher Education

Two of the largest general education courses online are “Introduction to Economics” and “Introduction to Classical Greek.” Which classes does President Donald Trump favor?

You know the stereotype: a man in a robe and turtleneck robes sitting in his large office on a notepad, pen in hand and bossy demeanor abounding. In reality, the portrait you’re seeing there is not someone in charge, but a teacher using online learning to aid in his work with other online teachers and learners alike. I got a taste of it this week when I was asked to write about one of the projects offered on fromand ASU’s new MOOC platform.

Whipping a multiple choice question by completing it all seems quite daunting – unless you decide to turn it into a piece for The Atlantic and/or Scribd, that is. (For the less tech-savvy amongst us, that would be an online platform that I’m sure most wouldn’t recognize.)

After doing so, the clever design of the quiz began to reveal itself.

When the quiz finished, the Scribd reader would understand that the quality of content was irrelevant, just as long as it was readily available. To paraphrase Rich Benjamin, chief technology officer of QuestBridge: “You’ve come to the right place.”

Along with the rather elegant format, the quiz encouraged readers to take action. A simple choice of action was made to email a copy of the quiz to their local school department. What if the faculty member understood the content, or even better, loved it? Or what if they emailed a copy back to me for my analysis? Or what if they immediately took the quiz themselves? The idea for this action was designed to have its effects drive the content development for the course. Ultimately, the higher learning content was made available and teachers could share it with their peers.

A reminder to remember the value of “shareable content” was important in this case, and something that my boss emphasized when we chatted following the publication of the story. Having a know-how or a understanding of the content itself can help drive a viable future education model in the digital world.

However, if the idea to share the content was exciting enough to get a Scribd reader all excited, you can bet that they would be eager to share the content as well if the results of that quiz could attract them to an ASU course. At the end of the day, it becomes about cultivating the user base that will drive the distribution strategy for the course.

We were thrilled to read students suggesting that Scribd match-make their curiosity to the class through social or other engagement as well as host or lead the course for them.

While these trends are empowering many in the ecosystem, there is work left to be done in this endeavor to foster higher learning. According to Ben Johnson, a senior lecturer at ASU whose work has been examined in this piece and with my team at New America, this “shareable content” is just a start, one of many innovations in higher education. Johnson’s words — a major contributor to our piece — lead me to my second hypothesis of why online learning is an exciting platform for higher education. As established by Zuckerberg & Company, the thesis is a bit complex. When asked to summarize, Zuckerberg and others have hypothesized that “great content drives engagement”. This is in direct response to the usefulness of an “online education” model for students who prefer to attend class face-to-face rather than online. My hypothesis regarding the success of online learning is simple: quality will drive engagement, which will likely attract students and the content development that connects students will lead to success.

In the business world, an asset is thought to be an asset when it has meaning in the market and is desired by customers. Online learning provides an increasingly proven model of education – one that has potential to serve millions in terms of education and engagement with a myriad of cultures, economic and social factors. Of course, these benefits are not yet inculcated into the dearest of higher education institutions, yet, I remain optimistic that it will be.

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