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The Future of Online Higher Education
New York , NY
Saturday, December 14, 2013
 
 According to futurist and online education pioneer, Dr. Fred DiUlus PhD, higher education is on an accelerated course headed for revolutionary change. Below is a summary of his thoughts he shared with officials from Virginia University of Lynchburg and a new affiliate campus at the Historic Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA in late October, 2013

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"I see colleges and universities as we know them ceasing to exist in a generation.

Universities are and will continue to be transformed by technology and 24/7 continuous education online. If a university is not on board with this change, they will not survive the competition. The accelerating transformation is but a decade old and the change has been remarkable to date, increasing exponentially year by year.

Online higher education was, and still is, vigorously opposed by traditional college administrators and faculty worldwide. It is considered by many educators as the absolute worst application for college bound students. Up until the last half dozen years, it has been shunned in one way or another by the majority of the top 50 universities. Since 2007, the tune has changed. Traditional higher education institutions morphed rapidly over the ongoing years to keep up with student demand for online courses. This change of direction was brought down upon them in waves from a bevy of well entrenched and successful privately held online colleges. These so-called online upstarts pose a serious threat to many liberal arts schools. Traditional colleges can no longer compete on a local, regional or international scale without adding online degree programs.

As a result, universities who formally fought against adopting any online protocols are now adopting hybrid programs (online and class based) at a staggering conversion rate. Schools offering online degree programs increased 700% in the past ten years while student enrollment in online degree programs is advancing an average of 12% a year. Thousands of colleges from among the 17,000 accredited universities worldwide are anxious to get onboard and grab their piece of the global education market.

The biggest problem facing universities opting to add online programs is the gap in teaching competency that exists when a traditional campus based school attempts to convert some resources to an online instructor based computer, tablet or other screen based delivery. Made possible by course and learner management systems known as LMS or CMS, the degree of sophistication of faculty delivery depends on the commitment of the university. Unfortunately, a grave shortage of adequately qualified online instructors exists. By default, these shortcomings provide a cadre of exclusive online universities that have been developing and preparing for years the clear edge in online education.

Rapid expansion and the inability to fill online teaching positions with competent and experienced online professors have proved to be a giant obstacle to quality pedagogy for traditional schools entering the field. Converting an existing traditional university professor to online expert has been found by administrators to be painfully harder than it looks. Administrators among most brick and mortar colleges find in-house faculty resistant to change. Ground based professors are generally aware of what it takes to convert one of their courses to an online system. They demand release time from teaching duties as well as extra compensation up to several thousand dollars for each course conversion from their classroom to online delivery.

The teach-online skillset does require the addition of a modicum of technical expertise which practically every student and fulltime professor teaching today possesses. However, the bulk of traditional educators do not want to be perceived as possessing the skillset without incentives. Regardless of motive, a new breed of faculty is working its way into the fabric of higher education. These are the trained and often  online educated faculty hired as adjuncts who love the opportunity online education presents for students. The best are skilled at both classroom and online delivery of classes and embrace the technology. They see vividly what's ahead. The bottom line is that any university has the innate capability to convert all their courses to online classes literally at will. An entire school's curriculum can be converted within a week. Those that see the urgency in this will find they are catapulted to the front of the pack and capable of catching up to the seasoned and exclusive online universities.

Polling by Pew Research and the Center for Entrepreneurship, Ethics, and Free Enterprise bear out the fact students prefer online course work and teaching over sitting in a classroom. When compared to on-ground, students who have experienced both on-ground and online classes find the runaway preference by students for online classes a whopping three to one. It is hard to argue with success. Is it because, as critics suggest – it is easier to take online classes? Statistics show that online students accomplish up to twice as much work and study than classroom based students. The reason is online students seem to naturally assume they must work harder for their online course to count when measured against similar courses taken by a student in a classroom.

Regardless of the statistics, a school's growth, student opinions, and preferences still finds the traditionalists are blinded by their own academic prejudice and historic experience. This is indeed akin to the narrow view of Middle Ages professors who, when faced with the adoption of the blackboard in their classrooms, were absolutely convinced that such a radical innovation would ruin higher education forever.

In spite of the inroads being made by most of the top tier non-profit traditional schools, they continue not to measure up to the top for-profit online universities. This includes the quality of teaching or advancing innovative delivery systems and methodology. Recent new online class adoption by traditional schools find them shamelessly promoting to the public that they base their online programs heavily on their brand and reputation as classic liberal arts universities. This perception is a myth and does not jive with reality that most treat their online faculty and programs as 2nd rate.

Then, there is the argument often posed by traditional schools that for-profit universities are teaching online for the 'profit' motive exclusively while their own non-profit colleges are teaching online as a step to enhance student knowledge and learning flexibility. This is also a myth. Non-profit universities generally view online education programs strictly as potential cash cows to support research, classroom, and residential facilities expansion. Unlike their for-profit counter parts, the new entrants to online education put new hires in charge of teaching online classes while reserving their best faculty for the classroom. Advancing innovative education is not high on their list in spite of the lip service paid to it when adopted. It serves only to hide the true motivation – money.

A major brand school has less clout compared in cyber space when determining what school is best to teach online classes. This must change and you can tell how much by how well an established ground based university displays its access to online programs on the front page of their website. If you have to go search for it, you can assume the school may be embarrassed it offers online programs. It is as they say in the confidence game, a TELL they are not as sold on online education as the students seeking it.

Today a student attending a university that offers online courses is able to take their professor and classes anywhere they desire. In the next six months, 3D and holographic capabilities for classrooms online will be just a short hop, skip and a jump from being introduced through online education protocols. Initially this advance will come strictly through the biggest dedicated online universities. Within two years a more advanced new breed of college educator will also invade online education provider cyber classrooms. This will come from the development of a Universal Professor Avatar. The professor is part of a virtual reality partnership between educators and virtual game developers.

The synergy between education and gamers has given rise to a new dynamic paradigm for colleges and universities. Made up of a part of online delivery systems it is uniquely called EDUTAINMENT. It is the future of a classic form of higher education transformed once again for the 21st century and an incredible advance in knowledge and knowledge acquisition throughout the world.

Stumbling into this future is a new free online course innovation called MOOCs or multiple open online courses. This development originally pioneered by MIT in the 90's found new life when a couple of erstwhile professors at Stanford decided to offer a free course using the Stanford university online course management system. Over 150,000 students opted in to take the free course and MOOCs were born. This was in 2012. Today hundreds of new free courses, in addition to those provided by schools like MIT, are flooding the education market. Since they are not available for college credit as students do not pay for the courses, they still are expanding the level of knowledge worldwide at a rate unforeseen.

The major question that haunts schools making MOOCs available to all comers is what is in it for the schools providing access? Colleges are searching desperately for a revenue model and some way to monetize the free online courses of their own rather than promote and offer someone else's free courses. Those looking beyond the end of their nose for a revenue model actually see, like MIT, the benefit that offering a conduit through their own university to free courses attaches the student to them literally for life. There will be plenty of opportunities for a provider school to take advantage of this relationship as both the university and the student mature into the 21st century of higher education. Those that see this will survive and prosper. Those that do not will perish."

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Dr. Fred DiUlus is the Managing General Partner of DiULUS and COMPANY, (EST1974), and the CEO and President of Global Academy Online (EST 2002) the nation's premier online university builder. He is the author of BEST WORST Online Degree Program Providers and the soon to be released WAY of the ENTREPRENEUR


 
LaFonda Oliver-Bowen
Sr. VP Communications
Global Academy Online
New York, NY
(917) 423 1333, EXT 2
(347) 274-3158