At Stanford, scholars debate the promises, pitfalls of online learning

Source: Stanford website, Oct 2012

For the first time in centuries, university administrators and intellectuals are seriously questioning the logic of how we teach and learn, and for the first time, we may actually have the technology to shift the education paradigm.

… three barriers to implementation: little hard data, no shared software platforms to ensure widespread adoption and the need to change our mindset.

Bowen referred to a study by his nonprofit educational organization, Ithaka, on a single online course offered by Carnegie Mellon University. (The study, and his lectures, are on Ithaka’s website.) Researchers found no statistically significant differences in learning outcomes between traditional classes and hybrid-online classes, and this finding was “relentlessly consistent” across campuses and subgroups – undermining arguments that online learning is suited only for certain groups.

Reflecting what Bowen called her “missionary spirit incarnate,” Koller appealed to the values of higher education so unanimously embraced by all the Tanner series participants. Online learning offers the chance for risk-free intellectual exploration, which in turn makes us better members of society, she said. It opens people’s minds to new places, it enables gifted students far away to learn about and even enroll in Stanford,

The study also explored how institutions might save money by gradually shifting to hybrid-online learning, though the writers found it difficult to compare cost outcomes. They plan to expand the sample to various massive open online classes, or MOOCs, across different platforms.

Hennessy, speaking from the audience, had the last word: “How do we preserve what we most love and treasure” about higher education, he asked, “while improving learning and reducing cost? That’s the fundamental question.”


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