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Online Higher Education

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The Impact on Learning Outcomes & Costs

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Summary Report: See Bottom of Page

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Introduction

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This Online Learning in Higher Education research grew out of a 2014 academic sabbatical held in the United States by the author, Dr. Gerard L. Danford. Interviews were completed with almost 100 individuals (within 38 research universities, universities, community colleges, public, private, not-for-profit and for-profit institutions) along with consultancies and technology providers.

“There’s a tsunami coming…as technology dramatically transforms Higher Education”

~ J.Hennessy (President, Stanford University)

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Online Learning

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Online Higher Education enrollments are growing faster than Higher Education enrollments as a whole in the United States. According to recent research, online enrollments account for almost 3/4 of total growth. However, despite the impressive growth rates of the past years many Higher Education institutions remained concerned about the overall performance of online students, retention rates, completion rates, and quality (learning outcomes). Furthermore, there are serious barriers for the adoption of online learning within Higher Education faculty. This barriers have also hampered the rate of uptake within many institutions. The most recent statistics for online enrollments show that 12.5% of all Higher Education students are exclusively enrolled in online courses. Some 22% of Graduate level Higher Education students are enrolled exclusively online. The overall growth rate for Higher Education online enrollments is approaching +4% per annually (far above enrollment rates for on-campus programs). Despite the concerns, many view online Higher Education as a delivery mode which can increase access and lower costs.

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online

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Research Question

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The debate surrounding comparable learning outcomes for online Higher Education continues. Moreover, verifiable learning outcome metrics (in-class vs. online) are still unclear. Therefore, this research explored in some depth the subject of outcomes (metrics), measurement of outcomes, and achievement of outcomes within an online learning context. There is also much debate concerning the impact online learning has on the cost of Higher Education. Two crucial aspects of costs are considered in this research. The first of those is student costs, and potential cost savings for students. The second aspect of costs explored concerns costs at the institutional level (operational, faculty etc.). Therefore, the research question for this study is:

“What is The Impact on Learning Outcomes & Costs”

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The Nine Themes

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Multiple forces are in play within Higher Education, and these are also influencing the growth of online education. No single force is dominant therefore, even more discrete forces have the potential to trigger significant shifts in the marketplace. Due to these disruptive market conditions, a holistic empirical methodology has been employed in this research within the scope of nine themes (contexts). The nine themes include:

  1. Institutional Policy
  2. Teaching Experiences
  3. Learning Outcomes
  4. In-depth Case Studies
  5. Instructional Design/Technology
  6. The Role of Libraries
  7. Open Educational Resources (OER)
  8. Competency Based Education
  9. The Role of Consultants

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nine themes

 

Drivers of Higher Education

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Three dominant drivers (demographic, economic and competitive) are impacting Higher Education. These drivers influence heavily Higher Education institutional strategies and the growth of online education. Furthermore, each driver is currently exhibiting unfavorable conditions (see ‘Triple-Helix’ market discussion below). Moreover, there are simultaneously three or more unfavorable sub-drivers at play within each dominant driver. The three dominant drivers for Higher Education are:

  • Demographic (declining target-population + flattening graduation rates + stagnant immediate-transition-to-college rates)

The traditional target-segment (high school students) is declining in numbers. Furthermore, high school graduation rates have peaked and the Immediate-Transition-To-College rate is stagnant (+1%). Therefore, Higher Education institutions are unable to achieve sustainable levels of growth (+3.5% annual enrollment rates). These disruptive demographic market conditions demand innovative and bold solutions (identifying and exploiting underserved markets etc.).

  • Economic (increasing tuition costs + rising student debt + decreasing government funding)

Tuition and textbook cost increases have outpaced inflation for decades. Tuition inflation combined with sky rocketing student debt ($1.16 trillion +10%), along with decreasing government funding for Higher Education has created hyper-sensitive market conditions. The result is that Higher Education has become prohibitively expensive for a broad range of the population. These disruptive economic market conditions demand innovative and bold solutions (overcoming the ‘Iron Triangle’ dilemma: greater access, at lower cost, with higher quality).

  • Competitive (declining enrollments + new entrants + disruptive innovation)

Enrollments are declining however, for-profit institutions continue to enter the market. Furthermore, enabling technologies (new modalities…) are disrupting legacy institutions. These disruptive competitive market conditions necessitate the formulation of bold and innovative solutions (identifying, crafting & implementing sustainable strategies).

 

drivers

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Triple Helix Market

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The three dominant drivers of Higher Education described above are unfavorable and each contains three, if not more, unfavorable sub-drivers. The author refers to this fragile condition as a ‘Triple-Helix’ market (3 unfavorable primary drivers, each of which contains three or more unfavorable sub-drivers). Unfortunately, there does not exist a magic bullet to overcome ‘Triple-Helix’ market conditions. However, institutions can benefit from gaining insights into the innovative solutions being currently explored on the marketplace to deal with these unfavorable conditions. The lessons learned from such cases could reveal a means to survival (and ultimately thriving), during a ‘Triple-Helix’ market. The author of this research has, therefore, sought out best-practice examples within the U.S. Higher Education ecosystem that may prove to be effective in ‘Triple Helix’ market conditions.  Thriving (not merely surviving) under the currently unfavorable conditions should be the leadership priority for every Higher Education institution.

 

Video Interviews

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35 video interviews were made and these are accompanied by full audio transcripts (interviews can be viewed through the main menu of this page). The video interviews we completed within; Higher Education public, private, for-profit and not-for-profit institutions (involving institutional leaders, faculty, instructional designers-technologists, open educational resource experts, librarians and consultants etc.). These video interviews were created to supplement the more in-depth face-to-face interviews completed during the research (Interview Participants-pdf). The institutions interviewed on video are listed below.

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videointerviews2

 

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Research Trailer

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Featuring Highlights From Each of the Nine Themes

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Sub-theme Video Trailers

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Due to the large number of video interviews made, nine shorter sub-theme trailer videos were created (highlights from each of the sub-theme interviews).

 

The Author

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Dr. Gerard L. Danford (D.Sc. Aalto, M.Sc. The London Business School) has been a business school academic for more than 20 years. Dr. Danford has held adjunct professor positions in the USA and Latvia along with visiting faculty positions in Russia and Germany. During his 20 year academic career he has specialized in strategy and international business. Dr. Danford designed his first online MBA course in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s, and has been an avid open educational resource enthusiast for more than 5 years. Prior to joining academia Dr. Danford was a strategy consultant (United Kingdom and Finland) for 20 years. Prior to consultancy, Dr. Danford was an industrial engineer in the United States of America. In the spirit of Open-education, Dr. Danford has now made available the video interviews (and full transcripts). Dr. Danford would be happy to engage further on this subject of research with other interested parties.

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“We need to bring learning to the people instead of people to learning.”

~ Elliot Masie

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Summary Report Available

Send an email to address below for a copy

Further Information:

Dr. Gerard L. Danford

gerard.danford@haaga-helia.fi

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Images: CC BY: creativecommons.org & commons.wikimedia.org