Jorg: “Maria, you are a specialist in online degrees. When I did my MBA back in 2003, online learning had the reputation of being a second class alternative to brick-and-mortar. What is the situation today?”
Maria: “Reputation, at its heart is a question of trust, and right now, while the entire U.S. collegiate system is receiving scrutiny, we are seeing more people willing to consider alternatives to brick-and-mortar institutions.
One of the criticisms that brick-and-mortar institutions have received, in fact, is that they use branding and reputation as a method to arbitrarily increase tuitions, which has impacted the student debt ratio significantly. On the other hand, the reputation of online education has to constantly redefine and combat its image as illegitimate services such as diploma mills and substandard universities threaten to discredit online learning as an educational platform. Thus the reputation of online education becomes spoiled in accordance to the old saying, “A few bad apples spoils the lot.”
I have to note, briefly, that what has really changed since 2003 is the surge in social media and mobile devices. While this may not seem related to online learning, it is most certainly a component of how we process information on a daily basis. Learning doesn’t take place in a lecture hall or a dorm room or in an online forum. Learning takes place within the brain. And as technology becomes more integrated into our lives, it will most certainly begin to influence the way we approach education and learning. In many ways, online education is the breeding ground for experimentation and discovery for new methods that could shape the future of education as a whole.”
Jorg: “What do decision makers in hiring companies think of online degrees?”
Maria: “More employers are beginning to accept online degrees as credible, and according to a survey done by Institution Excelsior College and Zogby International, a market research firm, 83% of executives see them as the equivalent of a brick-and-mortar degree. However, there are some employers who view degrees from traditional institutions as a representation of a deeper commitment. I think we will see this perception being offset by the extracurricular activities of ambitious online students such as more work experience and applied knowledge.”
Jorg: “How will online learning evolve over the next years?”
Maria: “What we are predicting for the future is that students will become more empowered as consumers, choosing education paths that work well within their budgets and schedules to fulfill professional and educational requirements.
The biggest trend in online learning right now is the introduction of Mass Online Open Courses. In a nutshell, MOOCs are courses offered by top universities and industry leaders such as Columbia University (currently for free, but that’s soon to change) and are designed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of students. This isn’t the first initiative that top universities have taken to enter the online education market, but this is the first where they seem to have a chance to offer something new to the table – and possibly corner the market.
In many ways, these MOOCs are forcing administrators of universities to consider online learning as a necessary step in the future of education. Students who were formerly skeptical of online courses can take a class for free, which means people will become more familiar with the platform. And while these courses don’t offer a degree path, they serve as a credible source of training, which has incited a new focus on bridging the gap between vocation and education. For example, the MOOC site Udacity has already paired graduates of courses with companies seeking relevant skills.
If we break away from MOOCs for a second and return to traditional online learning programs, I think we will see more students building course schedules with a pairing of online learning and brick-and-mortar classes in order to maximize their productivity. This will allow students to gain work experience through jobs and internships while studying.”
Jorg: “Thanks, Maria, for your insights.”
On the author:
Maria Rainier is a freelance blogger. She believes that online degrees and online universities are the future of higher learning. Maria is interested in all things education and is particularly passionate about life after college. Please share your comments with her.