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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Next online experiments in higher ed focus on flexibility

"Some of the country’s most rigorous research universities have a new obsession: flexibility. As the institutions contemplate a more modular future, experiments with blended learning may provide an early glimpse at their plans." according to PBS NewsHour.

Photo: PBS NewsHour

Through strategic visions and partnerships, institutions such as Duke and Harvard Universities and the Georgia and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology are laying the groundwork for curriculums that will be delivered through a combination of face-to-face instruction, blended courses and distance education. A common goal is to offer students “flexibility” — a word several administrators used to summarize their institutions’ aspirations.

The word has many definitions. For one institution, flexibility means giving students the freedom to race through core concepts on their own schedule, freeing up face-to-face time for more in-depth work; for another, it means giving students the opportunity to continue their studies whether they are on campus or not — and beyond graduation.

Many of the universities exploring these options were leaders of the movement to create massive open online courses or open course materials that could be used to teach students at institutions other than their own. Now these universities are exploring how they can become more flexible to find multiple uses for the same content, including teaching their own students.

Regardless of the definition, flexibility has much in common with MIT’s plans to “modularize” education — breaking courses down into smaller modules that can be taken on their own or shuffled and rearranged into a more personalized experience. In a preliminary report released last year, MIT toyed with the idea of “unbundling education and blurring boundaries” — combining distance and in-person instruction to the point where students could one day spend as little as two years on campus.

“Achieving [those goals] will require a commitment to adopting new models of blended learning — again emphasizing the flexibility to use different pedagogies in different settings — and an investment in a diverse and flexible range of spaces that cater to different formats of learning,” the report reads.

“I would be surprised if elite schools didn’t move somewhat in that direction,” said Lynne O’Brien, associate vice provost for digital and online initiatives at Duke. “Once one or two schools set forth in that space, others will follow.”

Source: PBS NewsHour