The Future of Education: What Will Be the Impact of Online Learning?

Wharton QS Reimagine Education

The future of education has always a topic which has generated excitement, controversy and debate, and never more so than now, in the second decade of the 20th century as questions of access, cost and quality have to come to the fore.

In such a context, innovation is no less than essential, as it becomes clear that the traditional models of education are increasingly unsuitable to the modern paradigm. Online learning in particular, it seems, will play a central role in the future of education at business school – although what shape this will take will be determined by the innovators and, of course, students, who will vote with their feet (or their keyboards).

QS (the parent company of TopMBA.com) has teamed with the Wharton School to launch ‘Reimagine Education’, a competition that celebrates innovation in education, culminating in the first annual conference at Wharton on December 8-10. Future MBAs – and in fact anyone with a stake in the world of business education, including employers – may wish to stay abreast of the developments, as there can be little doubt that the developments will serve as a solid indication of the future shape of business education.

In anticipation of the snapshot of the future of education that Reimagine Education will afford, QS founder Nunzio Quacquarelli and Jerry Wind, director of the Wharton SEI Center for Advanced Studies spoke to Knowledge@Wharton.

You can read the interview in full here, for more in-depth insights on MOOCs, online learning and flipped classrooms. But here are 10 things we learned from the conversation…

1. Education should look to business for solutions to its problems, particularly when it comes to offering customized solutions.

“[Education] does not have to be a faculty member standing in front of a class. Instead, we can use technology to try to customize the learning experience and move toward personalized learning to suit different individual needs,” says Wind.

2. Institutions seems to be showing more courage when it comes to blended and online learning.

“I see that institutions around the world are creating very interesting blended models for delivering educational content. They are developing a massive variety of purely on-line educational courses. But I see very little innovation in the traditional classroom,” Quacquarelli reflects.

3. MOOCs cannot yet be seen as genuine competition for traditional models of higher education.

 “MOOCs currently are not degree bearing; qualification is an essential part of the higher education promise and delivery. Therefore, I believe that as long as MOOCs are not degree bearing, they will continue to be supplemental,” says Quacquarelli.

4. Increasing completion rates for MOOCs requires a fine balance of things...

“Educators have to get creative to increase MOOC completion rates. You have to create the right incentives, environment, context, assignments and experience. You have to turn the passive viewing experience into a situation [that is] engaging, motivating [and] encourages further learning.”

5. ...but maybe increased completion rates isn’t what we should be aiming for.

“If you want to increase completion rates,” says Quacquarelli, “you’d have to create some tests or barriers to entry for candidates to determine their level of commitment to completion. But I’m not sure that’s a desirable goal. If the purpose of a MOOC is to make higher education widely available, then so be it.”

6. Real-world peer interaction is important, but one day online education might able to replicate this.

“I remain a supporter of the blended model, where some interaction with peers and faculty is incorporated into programs. However, we may see that technology really does, at some point in the future, replicate the bonding and intense inter-activity that face-to-face learning creates in the traditional world, ” Quacquarelli speculates.

7. The flipped classroom, in which videos are watched in lieu of lectures, while the classroom is given over to discussion, has much potential.

“I love it. I think this is probably going to be a major trend. University lecturers could have the option to give students high-quality MOOC lectures to watch at home, and then the regular classroom can become a forum for discussion. I see great potential here,” Wind asserts.

8. Businesses are more receptive to new ways of learning – party out of necessity.

“The corporate world is more willing to experiment with new ideas and teaching methods, in part, because they always need better knowledge and their businesses are increasingly based on smart ideas and employee engagement,” says Wind.

9. Leading institutions have the least incentive to change.

“These top-tier universities will need exceptional, courageous leaders to lead the change,” Wind states. “Otherwise, there’s the temptation to stick with the status quo since it’s worked so well in the past. But in the rest of the higher education space, I expect fundamental changes. Hopefully some leading research universities will move forward too.”

10. Though brand prestige will mean big name universities will still retain their pull, perhaps technology will allow institutions to share leading academics.

“I believe educational institutions should draw on expertise from around the world, not just who happens to be sitting in the classroom at a certain point in time,” says Quacquarelli. “There’s a real opportunity to use technology to draw together leading experts from around the world to contribute to a blended learning environment for post-graduate and research students. This isn’t limited to teaching and learning — it could be relevant for research projects as well. I think that’s truly interesting and pushes the envelope.

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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