This is the time of year when bloggers and reporters (some of whom, in the interest of full disclosure, are planning to take some time off for the holidays) produce a series of Year in Review stories. We asked our staff and our K20 Task Force members to share their thoughts on the biggest education news story of 2012. We also asked them for the most over-hyped education story of the year.
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was the same. Online learning in higher education, and the way it has been covered by the news media, is both the most significant story of the year . . . and also the one that has been trivialized by shallow reporting.
As K20 Task Force member Tom Dawson noted, “2012 will be remembered as the year that the traditional academy got over its phobia of online education.”
Ben Wildavsky, also a member of our K20 Task Force, highlighted “the sheer number of students who signed up: some two million have enrolled this year, a figure that astounds me no matter how often I hear it. And it’s hard to keep up with the seemingly daily announcements of new high-profile university participants and partnerships.”
In our recent panel discussion, K20 Task Force Member Jeff Selingo added emphasis to the importance of the story. “The only way [for colleges and universities] to gain efficiency and reduce costs is through course redesign.”
Clearly, the growing acceptance of online education in some form is a major development. But by focusing only on MOOCs, Mandy Zatynski points out, reporters are missing the more significant story:
MOOCs serve a slim minority—a population with the energy and time to take free, non-credit-bearing courses. But the majority of today’s postsecondary students are balancing jobs and families, while trying to earn a degree to get ahead; this leaves little leeway to access courses that, in the end, don’t count for anything. The better story is—and will be—partnerships like the one announced last month in Massachusetts, where two community colleges will incorporate an Introduction to Computer Science MOOC from MIT into an on-campus, credit-bearing course.
So in the end, our experts say that while MOOCs have captured the media attention, it’s the other, less-glamorous stories–things like accreditation and remediation–that will really make the difference. As Dawson predicts, “Online higher education 10 years from now (or even two), may have leapt past MOOCs and could look very different from what we conceive of today.”