Dr. Marni Baker Stein on the New Online Learning Landscape

Dr. Marni Baker Stein on the New Online Learning Landscape

(Apr. 14, 2014 University of Texas, Austin An interview by The Economist Intelligence Unit)
Online tool are rapidly evolving. Over the last five years we’ve seen the emergence of new technologies that allow for massive pedagogies that allow for more data-driven, evidence-driven approaches to education, that allow for more personalization, and that are highly social by design. I think five to ten years from now the landscape is going to look very different.

MOOCs: Popularizing New Methods 

From my perspective, my vantage point, the best thing that’s happened with the emergence of MOOCs is that it has encouraged the higher-education establishment, to wake up to the global potential of online learning. And I think what MOOCs did is they encouraged universities that weren’t in the online game and faculty who were never interested in online teaching before to open their eyes to the real potential of online learning at the scale of the world. 

The downside of MOOCs is that as they were developed, and as the MOOC technology emerged, they were really developed to support a more traditional paradigm of education. So the technology itself is not really a technology that’s driving high-impact pedagogies or that is encouraging highly social collaborative instructional approaches. They haven’t been deployed to fully leverage the crowd of students they bring together, to not only transmit knowledge and skills to these students, but produce knowledge and produce solutions on a global scale.

Entering New Markets 

We are in an increasingly competitive environment for education and online learning provides schools a way to capture new markets that they haven’t been able to capture in the past. Most schools, I think, are doing it out of necessity. Online of course assists us in serving non-traditional students because it allows us to be flexible, and increasingly with new types of competency-based programs allows us to be flexible not only with the delivery, but with the packaging. So we not only can offer degrees online, but we can offer stackable sets of programming assets. So, for example, we can offer a lesson or a just-in-time module. Or we can offer a certificate or a module that stacks into a certificate – a certificate that stacks into a specialization and a specialization that stacks into a degree. So traditional – non-traditional students, I think, are ripe for online education and transformational models of education.

A New Pedagogy 

Online learning changes students’ study habits and the outcomes of study, and that pathway is a lot more active than their traditional pathway in traditional educational programs. students have – almost always say, ‘Whoa, this is a lot more rigorous than I thought it was going to be, and this is a lot more work than my regular classes.’ And I think that’s interesting, because a lot of times the perspective is just the opposite. And what we’ve seen is because of that, students tend to do a lot better. They don’t fall through the cracks as easily because there are multiple points of assessment and checks for understanding.   

The Future of Education 

I think the future of education is more student-centered by design. That instead of educating students in batches in these predetermined packages, that we are going to understand where a student is going, what are their targeted outcomes and what are the most effective, powerful sort of personalized pathways for those students to those outcomes? And the hope is that we can exponentially increase student success by taking a more student-centered approach. 

I think what we’re going to see in education across all dimensions of the user experience, or the student experience is more personalization of services that really assist students with their challenges but also really support them in their strengths. And I think this is going to impact not just what happens in the classroom, I think that really big changes that you’re going to see are in institutional and program design. I think the actual curricula that we serve to students is going to look very different in five to ten years than it does now. It’s going to be more personalized. It’s going to be more outcomes-driven, and in some cases it’s going to be more industry-focused especially in emerging industries where we know there are big employment opportunities.

What will be interesting to see is if technology can really help us to create these scalable, next generation models that actually have exponential, you know, positive impacts on student success across every dimension of success. That is the dream of online education. And who knows? Perhaps really effective education for all is something that we will see in our lifetimes.