What lies ahead for online learning?

What lies ahead for online learning?

What can we expect in the field of online learning in 2012?

At MindEdge, we anticipate another year of sustained growth as we develop new learning resources—courses and simulations—and serve more adult learners. The same should be true not only for our specific segment (adult learners) but also for the market at large: the growth curve for online learning continues to move upward across the board.

Some intriguing new entrants will help spark innovation in learning. Three developments that bear close watching in 2012 are:

  • The MITx initiative to provide “open source” free courses coupled with the school’s offer to provide credentials certifying learner mastery for a small fee. MITx’s approach has been widely seen as a break with the traditional academic practice of bundling credits in degree programs.
  • The launch of Udacity, a spin-off based on Stanford’s experiment in hosting a free artificial intelligence course to hundreds of thousands of learners. Udacity will be offering more free courses to global audiences this spring. The founders of Udacity proclaim: “We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.”
  • Apple’s plans to “reinvent the textbook” through its iPad platform. Apple executives argue that “with rich, engaging content and powerful annotation capabilities, digital textbooks will help American students better compete with peers abroad“. Apple is working with major textbook publishers in converting their content to interactive e-texts.

These developments suggest significant changes ahead for the traditional model of educating adults. They also represent alternative avenues for provide learning that don’t rely on existing institutions.

The need for rethinking how we deliver learning has been clear for some time now. There are an estimated 37 million Americans with some college credits but no degree, according to recent reports. That represents more than 20 percent of the working-age population.

We can dramatically improve human capital in the U.S. by providing this group with more convenient ways to complete college credits, and by establishing alternative credentials that will be recognized by employers.

These developments are exciting for those of us already serving adult learners with online content. This new wave of innovation will, no doubt, arm us with new tools and techniques and better ways of communicating and teaching.

So we will be intently watching these experiments in the months ahead, alert to learn what we can from them, always looking for how we can leverage advances in the field to do a better job ourselves.


Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Babson College, and Boston University.

Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders