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How Digital Technology Transforms the World of Online Education

By Digital Strategy — June 19, 2013 - 4:32 pm

Online education isn’t new, but due to the advancement of digital technology and increase in mobile penetration, online education platforms have transformed into unique experiences that not only provide easy access but also highly engaging real-time interaction. Realizing the opportunity of establishing thought leadership and pushing forward, more brands are starting to partner with online education platforms to drive perception and provide utility.

In 2006, Salman Khan — a graduate of both MIT and the Harvard Business School– started Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website – with a stated mission to “provide a high quality education for anyone, anywhere”. The website supplies a free online collection of more than 4,000 lecture video tutorials that cover a wide range of disciplines including mathematics, history, medicine, finance and more.

This initiative started the wave of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that disrupted the 200 years of conventional model of elite higher education, characterized by limited access and availability through the use of a variety of selective admission techniques. To the contrary, a MOOC is designed to enroll tens of thousands of students, and is open to anybody with Internet connection. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide sophisticated interactive elements including real-time quiz and discussion to make sure students understand the material.

MOOCs are catching on. Khan Academy now has 10 million worldwide users with over 228 million lessons delivered online. edX, another online course platform founded by Harvard and MIT, have already enrolled a startling number of 370,000 students since its launch in the fall semester of 2012.

Besides the massive scale and reach, the participation of elite universities is still key to the success of MOOC. In the past two years, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, and the University of Texas have together pledged tens of millions of dollars to MOOC development. Coursera, another MOOC platform started by faculty members at Stanford now offers courses from 33 world’s best universities including Brown, Columbia and Duke and has enrollment approaching one and a half million students.

Open source platforms, large-scale data measurement and analysis, as well as social platforms are the three backbone technologies that propel mainstream adoption of MOOCs. A recent survey of hundreds of educators reported in Huffington Post says that while only 13 percent of schools today offer MOOCs, 43 percent plan to offer MOOCs by 2016.

Data shows that the same three-person teaching team that used to teach a course to 400 students at MIT now handles 10,000 online and could take a hundred times more on open source MOOC platforms.

Large-scale data measurement and analysis, often known as big data, facilitates personalization on a massive scale. There are already embedded exercises and analytics that let teachers track 50 or 100 students at once. All those millions of students can have their progress tracked, logged, studied, and probably influenced, too. Ideally, there will be software that maps an individual’s knowledge and offers a lesson plan unique to him or her.

Social platforms such as Google + hangouts are now frequently used in online education to help establish communities for real-time discussion and feedback among students and professors. The technology enhances classroom interaction and engagement, and hence significantly improves the learning process.

What’s more, Google just announced Play for Education in its 6th I/O developer conference, which is a new program that serves as a destination for educational content within Google Play. The program is designed for educators to easily discover, purchase and distribute expert curated apps to students to meet their various learning needs.

Realizing the proven value and massive reach of MOOCs, brands have started to capitalize on this opportunity to reach consumers when they are most receptive to acquiring new information. For example, a major financial institution has partnered with Khan Academy to launch a program that will provide both bank customers and non-customers alike free, self-paced, easy-to-understand resources to develop better money habits.

While partnering with educational platforms can help brands build credibility, drive thought leadership, and hence lift brand perception, they need to ensure that the offerings provide users with the most relevant content and the most streamlined user experience.

Unquestionably, digital advancements, especially mobile and social technologies have played an irreplaceable role in this education revolution, and will continue to enhance online education via improving data collection and user experience design.


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