Their introduction marks a watershed moment in the Webification of higher education, upending the entire business model by making expensive courses at selective universities available free of charge to countless people.
In many ways, Washington serves as a microcosm for trends reshaping the industry. Web-based graduate degree programs are cropping up at area business schools in particular, yet no two universities are taking an identical approach to online education.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, an international accreditation body, found 118 of its nearly 500 accredited institutions in the U.S. offered online-only master’s degree programs during the 2011-2012 school year. That’s up from 99 two years prior.
Dan LeClair, the association’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said many more universities offer hybrid degrees that integrate online and classroom education. Future AASCB surveys will count those programs as well.
“The real opportunities are in using technology to enhance degree programs, not only make those programs accessible to a wider audience,” LeClair said.
“They’re all asking the question about what our strategy ought to be, which can be anything from, ‘That’s not for us’ to ‘We need to move from bricks and mortar to completely online,’” LeClair said. “Most of the interesting stuff is happening in between.”
University of Maryland business professor Hank Lucas spent two-and-a-half hours filming and editing an instructional video at his home office in Annapolis one morning last week. The end result, a 12-minute lecture for what is known as a massive open online course — or MOOC — that begins March 25.
The university has begun to pilot a handful of classes on Coursera, a platform where universities offer classes free of charge to all who are interested. Lucas’ course, ironically centered around industry-disrupting technologies, has attracted 12,000 prospective students to date, he said.
“It’s really, right now, a course people should take because they’re interested in the course, not for college credit,” Lucas said. “That means I don’t have to be concerned with having exactly the right amount of material in it. I don’t have to worry about testing or as many assignments.”
Still, Lucas sees a future in which such mass courses are offered for credit in exchange for tuition. For that reason, he said the university and its business school have to pursue new online course offerings proactively.
“There’s a sense on campus that we don’t understand everything about this. We don’t understand how it’s going to go. But we don’t want to be the last people in the world thinking about MOOCs,” Lucas said.