The Online Learning Explosion

Recapping the trends that shook the education sector through 2017, it’s obvious that technology is the biggest player. From artificial intelligence to virtual and augmented reality, technology has invaded the classroom.

And it’s brought the classroom to the home as well.

The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and other types of online has been much talked about by industry experts. But online education has been gaining popularity for years. It’s a trend that’s been growing globally, as more students and professionals choose to pursue short courses, and even degrees online rather than to enrol in a brick-and-mortar university. Technology is the main reason for the shift, with the prevalence of laptops, smartphones and tablet devices, making education more widely accessible. These technologies make it simple for educators to provide instruction for short courses, such as excel classes or language classes, completely online.

In the USA, over six million college students have enrolled in some form of distance or online education. Unsurprisingly, the US based MOOC platform Alison has become one of the world’s largest online education providers and certifiers. With 1,000 free courses on offer, and almost 12 million students of all backgrounds registered, Alison has been leading the way globally when it comes to delivery methods and student satisfaction. But it isn’t just in America that these types of education models have boomed. FutureLearn, the UK-based MOOC provider wholly owned by The Open University, is one of the top 5 providers in the world, with close to six million students. A white paper released in 2016 by the Chinese Ministry of Education predicted MOOC enrolments to hit ten million. In the Arab region the MOOC platform Rwaq, provides 300 courses, and has enrolled almost two million students since it launched four years ago.

There are some inherent advantages to online courses. They provide quick and easy scalability for one. if you need to increase the number of students attending a class, there’s no need to worry about securing a bigger classroom. Most MOOC’s and online learning options are also self-paced, something that isn’t only appealing to time-starved professionals, but college students too. As studies have shown different people have different learning styles and absorb information at varying rates. For some students, self-paced learning is the ideal options.

Online courses have also democratised education, breaking down barriers like location, or privilege, to allow more people to gain qualifications and increase their job chances. And in the current job market, where skills can quickly become obsolete, MOOCs are in line with the environment, providing fast-paced and flexible delivery to working professionals who need to keep their qualifications current.

But online learning does not come without its risks.

In 2016 the United Kingdom’s university watchdog had to shut down 30 fake online institutions like Canterbury University. Inputting the University’s street address into Google maps showed an empty shopfront next to a dog groomer. But considering that Canterbury Christ Church University is a real institution, it’s easy to understand how some people fall victim to these kinds of scams.

 

According to a 2015 report released by the New York Times, around 350 fake websites posing as legitimate universities sell hundreds of thousands of fake degrees and certifications each year to unsuspecting students from all over the world.

Fake certificates are becoming a problem for Australia too, with an investigation this year revealing fraudulent degrees had been used by public servants and high-level executive officers to obtain high-paying positions, including the chief information officer of South Australia’s state Government.

Fake universities and diploma mills have different operating models. Some will claim to be able to issue accreditation or awards based on a person’s life experience. They charge to allow people to demonstrate that they’ve already gained the required skills for the qualification, and then issue a ‘certificate’.

Other models set up their institution to look and feel like a real university. They’ll issue assignments to be completed, which will never be marked, but help to fool people into thinking their course is legitimate. Newer models have offered subscription type packages, where they continue to keep up the pretence that the qualifications they are offering a real.

As public interest and enrolment in online learning continues to grow, both the education sector, and governments will need to do more to combat fake universities and fake degrees.

MOOCs have been one of the most hotly-debated topics in the education circles over the past few years. Opinions have been extremely polarizing, with some people heralding it as the greatest leap for education since the invention of the printing press, and some dismissing it as another fad. The time is coming when anyone with a computer or phone will be able to learn just about anything they want. Even if online learning never fully replaces traditional face to face education, it’s become a permanent part of the education landscape.

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