Education technology and MOOCs took the traditional format of lectures and translated them into easily accessible and wildly popular online forums. While low completion rates draw criticism and bring the quality of online courses into question, higher education institutions must find new ways to identify and measure quality while improving the effectiveness of online learning.
Jeff Hellmer is an accomplished jazz pianist who has taught music at the University of Texas at Austin for 27 years. He thinks of himself as more than a teacher, though: “What I would like to do with my teaching is be an ambassador for jazz.”
This past spring, in what’s become an increasingly common move, he brought his ambassadorship to a wider audience. He turned his popular introductory course, Jazz Appreciation, into a free 10-week online course.
It’s open to anyone through a company called edX, and 19,000 people signed up.
Online college is no longer the future. It’s here. According to the Sloan Consortium, more than one-third of all U.S. college students now take at least one course online for credit. That’s 7 million students last year alone. Meanwhile, on platforms like edX (over 2 million users) and Coursera (over 8 million users), people from every country in the world are taking free versions of college courses.
And Starbucks just announced that it will offer over 100,000 employees the chance to take college classes online from Arizona State University.
The news from Starbucks, amid this dramatic expansion of online learning, has reignited a long-running debate about the quality of what’s being offered.
In other words, can 19,000 students watching a video of Jeff Hellmer on their computer screens ever hope to learn as much — or learn as well — as the students who’ve sat in a classroom right in front of him for all these years?
To answer that, we need to define and measure “quality” in online education. Which is tricky, because we don’t have a great definition of quality in face-to-face education.
Fortunes — not to mention the education that millions of students will receive — ride in the balance.