Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Running race between open learning and formal higher education

As the discussion on the future of higher education keeps on going, it is interesting to see how the presidents of colleges look upon these changes, particularly when looking at how top management looks at the pro's and con's of online learning.

The Pew Research Center just published a 29-page document on the digital revolution and higher education, where they look at the difference in valuating online learning between presidents of both for-profit, private and public colleges/universities and the public at l. The document is a result of a survey conducted in spring 2011. One is a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,142 adults ages 18 and older. The other is an online survey, done in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education, among the presidents of 1,055 two-year and four-year private, public, and for-profit colleges and universities. The report is quite interesting, as it clearly shows the difference of appreciation of online learning.

While going through the report I could not but wonder why online learning still is not embraced by the larger public. This resistance seems to me to have parallels in the adoption of technology. Just look back at the discussions that started when the television started to enter the mainstream shops, or when the CD's started to rise in interest, let alone the first personal computers... But on the upside, one can see that an increasing number of college/university presidents is embracing online learning and is increasingly offering online learning at their institute.

But what did surprise me was that although mobile devices are all around us, and we use it in many cases for contextualized, informal learning, most of the educational institutes don't yet have a clear guideline for these new learning devices. Which immediately suggests to me that the content resources will probably also not be designed taken into consideration mobile learning affordances. Or web-based affordances at that. For although courses are mentioned in the report, the quality of these online courses, and whether these courses are designed following online contemporary needs (peer interaction, scaffolding, designed for reconfiguration depending on the device which accesses the content...) is unclear.

Nice report though.

Here is a summary of the key findings (taken from the report):

The Value of Online Learning. The public and college presidents differ over the educational value of online courses. Only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom. Half (51%) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value.

The Prevalence of Online Courses. More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses. These courses are more prevalent in some sectors of higher education than in others. While 89% of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes, just 60% of four-year private schools offer them.

Online Students. Roughly one-in-four college graduates (23%) report that they have taken a class online. However, the share doubles to 46% among those who have graduated in the past ten years. Among all adults who have taken a class online, 39% say the format’s educational value is equal to that of a course taken in a classroom.

The Future of Online Learning. College presidents predict substantial growth in online learning: 15% say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, and 50% predict that 10 years from now most of their students will take classes online.

Digital Textbooks.Nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.

The Internet and Plagiarism. Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years. Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89% say computers and the internet have played a major role.

Do Laptops and Smartphones Belong in the Classroom? More than half of recent college graduates (57%) say when they were in college they used a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer in class at least sometime. Most colleges and universities do not have institutional guidelines in place for the use of these devices in class. Some 41% of college presidents say students are allowed to use laptops or other portable devices during class; at 56% of colleges and universities it is up to the individual instructors. Only 2% of presidents say the use of these devices is prohibited.

College Presidents and Technology. The leaders of the nation’s colleges and universities are a tech-savvy group. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) use a smartphone daily, 83% use a desktop computer and 65% use a laptop. And they are ahead of the curve on some of the newer digital technologies: Fully half (49%) use a tablet computer such as an iPad at least occasionally, and 42% use an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook.

College Presidents and Social Networking. Roughly one-third of college presidents (32%) report that they use Facebook weekly or more often; 18% say they use Twitter at least occasionally.