Gates Foundation Gives $100k for Online Education Conference

Due to the increased popularity of online education because of its outreach and flexibility, the calls for its improvement have increased, too. Several huge companies and charitable foundations are showing their support for online education by providing funds to various institutions interested in improving the medium. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the latest, having offered a grant to a leading university to hold a conference where educators can discuss ways to improve the effectiveness of online education.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave the University of Texas at Arlington a $97,200 grant to host a conference where educators will discuss the effectiveness of new trends in online learning. Researchers from across the U.S., Canada and Australia will talk about their research on how massive open online courses (MOOCs) can personalize learning and change the dynamics of traditional forms of education. UT Arlington was selected to host the MOOCs initiative because of its strong presence in online learning, according to George Siemens.

Siemens said that online courses are fast gaining popularity in colleges and universities because of their mass appeal and flexibility. He said that a massive open online class can have 200,000 global participants and offer up-to-date educational opportunities for people including traditional students, doctors and construction workers.

“The big distinction is that our need for learning has changed. Rarely can you enter a career right out of college and stay there the rest of your life. MOOCs, I think, are a reflection in which the learning needs of society of have changed and universities haven’t,” George said.

According to a recent survey, though millions of students have signed up for massive open online courses at Stanford University and through an MIT-Harvard collaboration, 90 percent of those who sign up for mass online courses don’t finish.

“So, 2012 was called ‘the year of the MOOC,’ and everybody was all up in arms about how can you do this, but no one ever talked about the learning outcomes and how they can be used. That’s what this conference is for,” said Laurel Mayo, director of the Learning Innovation Network Lab at UTA.

According to Monica S. Nagy of Star-Telegram, the College of Nursing is the only program that offers a MOOC via UT Arlington. The course, called Enhancing Patient Safety Through Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, is a part of the RN to BSN program. Laurel said that results show 72-84 % of working nurses who took the massive open online class at UTA were prepared to enroll in courses to further their education.