Washington DC Continues to Pioneer in Online Higher Ed

When it comes to the array of exciting stuff developing in online higher education, it seems the United States is where it’s at. First, California legislators announced a plan to invite MOOC providers to offer courses for public university credit and now, George Washington University in Washington D.C. is launching a limited pilot of a new online MBA program — and its first 17 students come from as far away as Afghanistan and Singapore.

The online program isn’t exactly like the online courses people have gotten used to. It’s not entirely asynchronous, for one. All 17 students meet together online at the same time once a week for a “lecture,” but the majority of the work is done on their own schedules.

The videos used for instruction do retain some of that college-lecture flair though – they feature a professor lecturing a group of stand-ins.

The image mimics the more intimate feel that comes with sharing a classroom with a small cohort of students, said Doug Guthrie, the business school’s dean. Otherwise online education can feel isolating, particularly in massive courses with limited person-to-person interaction.

“I think of us as the anti-MOOCs movement,” Guthrie said. “We really believe that in some cases if you completely strip down a course and totally change the pedagogical approach …you can both build a better community and interaction between the teacher and the students.”

Online courses could be a particular boon for D.C. schools, since their ability to expand is severely restricted by the enrollment caps imposed by the D.C. Council. Georgetown, another area school is launching its own online experiment for the very same reason.

Next January, the school will kick off the inaugural class of its new online master’s degree in finance. Fifty students will get a chance to enroll in the new program. If it proves a success, the university anticipates launching two additional online master’s programs – in international business and policy – shortly thereafter.

George Mason University began an online version of its executive MBA program in January of last year to capture mid-to-top-level managers from around the region. With the exception of a two-week program in either Washington or overseas, instruction and student interaction take place entirely over the Internet. The online program, created with Colloquy — an online education company owned by The Washington Post Co., parent of Capital Business — provides flexibility for students who couldn’t attend classes that otherwise meet on weekends and provides George Mason with a new stream of tuition revenue, said Jean-Pierre Auffret, director of executive degree programs.