Currently, online education is the subject of heated discussion. In particular, massive open online courses, or MOOCs—free-of-charge courses from elite colleges delivered via the Internet to millions worldwide—are generating a lot of debate, both for and against.
I believe that 2014 will be “Year Zero” of small private online courses, not of massive open online courses.
Enthusiasts claim that MOOCs will make higher learning much cheaper and more accessible. Tom Friedman of The New York Times summed them up as enabling anyone to get a $50,000-a-year education for free.
But the naysayers can point to plenty of negatives. Most MOOCs consist only of lecture videos and multiple-choice tests, meaning that students are both passive and isolated. There is none of the direct, face-to-face interaction, the most fun and motivating part of the education process.
The numbers certainly show that MOOCs have a long way to go in terms of audience engagement. Millions sign up—but currently over 90% of students drop out.
Recently, though, a consensus is emerging about the best path for MOOCs to take. It’s the so-called “blended model” which unites the advantages of the internet—anywhere/anytime access and real-time online interactivity—with intellectual stimulation, companionship, and healthy peer pressure of interaction in the offline world.
From April next year, GLOBIS will begin to offer an online Japanese-language MBA. It will not be a large-scale, free-of-charge MOOC, but a well-crafted SPOC designed to blend the best of the online and offline worlds. In our judgment, SPOCs are the most effective way to deliver education remotely.
When we researched online courses at other institutions, everyone we surveyed said the same thing: that staring at a tablet or PC eventually got boring; they wanted a course that included physical interaction with other people.
So the first thing we did was to make sure that even the online part of our MBA was highly interactive with small private classes. At GLOBIS, we’ve always taught using the discussion-based case-study method. Now—thanks to ubiquitous broadband and new communication technologies—these group discussions can be moved online with no reduction in quality.
In fact, an online discussion can sometimes be even better than a real classroom discussion. Why? Because with chat programs, the students who are not currently speaking onscreen can bring up questions and topics in a sidebar, making it easy to identify potentially interesting points and keep the discussion powering forward.
At the same time, we also made it possible for students who start feeling bored of the online experience to attend real classes in any of our five campuses around Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai, and Fukuoka). All classes and credits are interchangeable between the online and offline courses, in the so-called “clicks and mortar” approach.
Having an online course also works to the advantage of students in the conventional MBA course. If they find themselves unable to attend a class at school, they can catch the same class online instead.
I think that too many people in the anti-MOOC/online education camp see the conflict as a zero-sum game. They believe that online education’s gain is always offline education’s loss.
I don’t see things in those terms at all.
Online education will enlarge the overall educational pie. At GLOBIS, while we expect a few people to switch from the conventional to the online MBA course, mostly we expect the online MBA to attract a completely new group of students: people in the remote parts of Japan—Hokkaido in the north, Okinawa in the south, Shikoku in the West—who will be gaining access to an MBA course for the first time.
Digital technology is revolutionizing everything: news, publishing, entertainment, banking. And education is no exception. Just because education has a unique social value, it cannot be treated as sacrosanct and kept off-limits to change.
We educators need to embrace the new technology, but apply it in a way that’s positive for everyone: faculty, existing students, and—most importantly—an entirely new set of students who were unable to get the education they wanted until now for simple reasons like distance.
A skillfully blended SPOC will enable colleges to reach far more people without any sacrifice in educational quality. And that’s a very good thing.