Online Learning Companies Embrace Challenge of Retaining Students

Considering online education's biggest problem currently to be students' boredom, NovoEd, the fourth massive open online course platform (MOOC) to come roaring out of Stanford has spent $2 million to try and spice up its offerings, according to Venture Beat's Harrison Weber. The other three Stanford-started MOOCs are edX, Udacity, and Coursera.

NovoEd had goal of minimizing the large dropout rate that online courses have been facing. Since its launch in April of 2013, the company claims that it is improving college graduation rates through its remedial math programs and is increasing online retention rates by more than 10 times. What began as a Venture Lab has now partnered with Princeton, Berkeley, and other educational organizations. The company has raised more than $2 million.

Students can take courses from thought leaders and professors from well-known universities. There is also a component to the program that allows students to interact and collaborate with one another on course projects. There is an innovational aspect to NovoEd, as well, which provides the opportunity to work on real-world projects that can actually make a difference.

Stanford, reports Campus Technology, has released a study which examines the use of online technologies and methods in education. The report reveals that 1.9 million people worldwide have registered for one or more of the public courses offered by the California university through the Coursera, NovoEd, and Stanford OpenEdX platforms.

The stats on these course platforms include:

  • Four in 10 students spend 1-20 minutes a week on the material
  • 32% spend more than an hour a week
  • 29% spend between 20-60 minutes per week on the material
  • The majority of participating students are from the US, followed by India, the UK, Canada and China.
  • California has the highest enrollment among US states, followed by New York, Texas, Washington and Illinois.
  • 73%of students are male
  • Online instruction at Stanford can be MOOCs, flipped or blended classes, or course components in standard and continuing education courses

The Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL) has encouraged faculty experimentation and innovation in this area by offering 66 grants to support online ed in all forms among faculty. One project that used this grant money was developed by Lambertus Hesselink, professor of electrical engineering, and his collaborators. The idea was to use "pre-recorded versions of specific experiments that cover every potential setup a student might try".

Another grant recipient developed a "flipped" course on "statistics in medicine" and then published the same class as a MOOC for the public. What made the course appealing included the provocative question (Ex: Is there lead in lipstick?) asked by the professor intermittently throughout the course and then would have students come up with the answer by teaching students how to use, evaluate, and interpret statistics in medical research.

The course also included PowerPoint presentations, narrations, embedded quizzes, instructional videos, and homework assignments. All this engagement made this a MOOC that, compared to others, had a greater percentage of active users.

Stanford says it is going beyond just MOOCs and is establishing teaching methods for generations to come. Vice Provost John Mitchell, who directs VPOL, is keeping his vision of online learning broad.

That exploration, he added, moves the focus away from MOOC "completion rates," and towards how participants engage with the material. "In the process, we are asking important questions: How can we help students learn more effectively? How can we better leverage classroom time? How can technology enable educators to better meet the needs of particular learners?"

06 3, 2014
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