|Photo: Jordan Friedman|
|Big data, experts say, will continue to affect how professors teach their online students in 2017. |
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In the past few years, more students enrolled in online courses, more organizations offered alternative credentials such as digital badges and nanodegrees and more employers accepted online degrees from job candidates.
Here are five trends experts say students might see in online education in 2017.
1. Greater emphasis on nontraditional credentials:
Companies in recent years have started offering credentials other than degrees to online learners, ranging from digital badges to showcase achievements, to various certificate programs that highlight skills.
In 2017, many experts predict, colleges and universities will become more involved in granting what are often referred to as "microcredentials."
At universities, "I think there's going to be more focus on how to best serve individuals, whether they are new to education or whether they are returning professionals seeking different credentials or different learning experiences," says Karen Pedersen, chief knowledge officer for the Online Learning Consortium, a group that aims to improve online higher education worldwide.
The massive open online course, or MOOC, provider edX expects to launch more MicroMasters programs in partnership with universities worldwide, for example, a company spokeswoman says. Students complete a portion of a graduate degree through MOOCs and can then apply to finish the full curriculum on campus at a lower total cost.
The U.S. Department of Education is also in the process of reviewing federal financial aid opportunities for low-income students in some non-degree programs such as coding boot camps, through eight partnerships between universities and organizations.
2. Increased use of big data to measure student performance:
Because online students complete their coursework virtually, course providers and universities are collecting data "in really kind of remarkable quantities," says Richard DeMillo, executive director of Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for 21st Century Universities, which tracks technology innovations in higher education.
This year, faculty will increasingly analyze real-time data to measure, improve and predict how their students perform, says Jill Buban, OLC's senior director of research and innovation. That will allow them to tailor curriculums to meet online students' needs and provide support.
"For faculty members to be able to see whether or not a student has logged in, whether or not a student has participated that week, can really help them in assessing whether a student is on track," Buban says.
3. Greater incorporation of artificial intelligence into classes:
In an online course at Georgia Tech last year in artificial intelligence, the professor used a virtual teaching assistant – named "Jill Watson" – to communicate with students. Many of the students, DeMillo says, didn't even realize they were chatting with a computer.