5 Trends in Online Graduate Education

First and foremost, online graduate education is on the rise (1). This has been true for the past 10 years and shows little sign of stopping. Where education used to function primarily to give prospective employees a marketability advantage, it now may serve as a prerequisite for any number of jobs.

The second trend is that colleges and universities across the country are expanding their online programs. With the rise of technologically fluent students as well as an ever increasing IT force, focusing more capital and human resources into the online sphere is only practical. In recent years, more and more colleges and graduate schools have turned to online education, with even more planning to expand in the near future.

The third trend is tied closely to the first. Lifetime education is, generally speaking, becoming the status quo in today’s society. And not only are older students uninterested in taking in-house classes with kids who could be their children, they see the price point and the pliability of the online graduate course schedule as enormous advantages. These older students often have a great deal more academic credits and experience on hand before embarking on further—which is to say graduate—education, and the convenience of the online platform allows them to continue seeking education throughout their career.

The fourth trend concerns the professorial view of online education. Though many faculty members in U.S. institutions believe that online education has less qualitative value, some see the merits of online higher education. Even with respect to in-house courses, professors are more willing than ever to engage students online. This has been true of emails for some time, but other programs like Blackboard are staking their claim in the academic world. With the explosion of technological gadgets and systems, students and professors alike are beginning to sense the ever changing academic scene. Though many professors do not believe that traditional teaching methods will ever be overtaken by distance education, they all agree that it will become more and more prevalent.

The fifth and final trend mentioned here has to do with the introduction of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. These enormous online courses have as many benefits as possible downfalls. Tuition, generally speaking, is not getting any cheaper these days, and in a down economy any means by which one can attain high credentials at a low cost is the best means.

The less attractive aspect to MOOCs is the inevitable quality problem. How can the individuals in a large class get sufficient attention needed from one professor and maybe a student aid? And what about the work load for MOOC professors relative to other classes? Especially with regard to graduate school, the student to professor ratio is one of the most attractive elements for prospect students. For some programs ratios are as small as 2:1, guaranteeing that students get sufficient attention (2). But what about a grad program that offers a 50:1 ratio, 100: 1, or even 200:1 and above? Does that even count as graduate school in any traditional sense? These are hard questions for both institutions and students to face.

For students, however, program quality, financial aid, and employer acceptance ranked as their top concerns about online education, according to an earlier study by Learning House. The online education company surveyed 1,500 students either enrolled or planning to enroll in an online degree program.

Written by University of Pennsylvania graduate and freelance writer Kevin Hughes and edited by Laura Morrison, the Content Manager of GradSchools.com. To see more of the wealth of opportunities offered by online graduate school programs, find out here.

    (1). http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-08-07/online-teaching-degrees/56849026/1

    (2). http://www.fastweb.com/college-search/articles/87-the-importance-of-class-size

How to Use MOOCs to Support Your Grad School Experience



By the time my muscle contraction test arrived, I had already forgotten which part did what. I knew the information, but we had covered so much other material that I needed a quick overview to reorient myself. I turned to Youtube’s Crash Course, looking for Hank Green to help me out. In about 12 minutes, I had completely refreshed the concept and dusted off the details.

MOOC is short for Massive Open Online Course, referring to anything from the tutorial style videos on Khan Academy to certificate-for-completion courses offered through Coursera. MOOCs have grown over the last several years to offer material on any subject you can imagine, as in depth or as casual as you could want. In my first semester of graduate school, I’ve found several uses for them.

Student Uses:

- Preparation. For my cardio section of physiology, I prepared for lectures by first watching these videos. I was able to understand lecture material far quicker because I had been exposed to the material already. Using the right MOOC will drastically reduce study time and enable you to engage the lectures when they happen. You have limited access to your professor, so being prepared gives you greater benefit.

- Clarification and Review. As I mentioned above, Crashcourse has helped me refresh some key concepts before reviewing detailed material. In renal physiology, I couldn’t get my head around the flow through the nephrons. I found these tutorials easy to understand and quick enough to leave enough time to study everything else. MOOCs that are more formally organized also have forums, wikis, and other means of interaction that can prove invaluable when professors aren’t available for questions.

- Distraction. If you’re in grad school, you’ve been immersed into your studies in a different and deeper way than in undergrad. You need a brain break. You need something to talk about with friends and family who don’t understand what you’re studying. I love history, so when I need a break, I’ll watch Yale’s history lectures. I don’t have to worry about learning or testing, it’s just fun to use a different part of my brain and learn about something outside of medicine. And I can have a conversation with people apart from my learning.

- Continuing Education. Many MOOCs offer a certificate of completion that requires some testing to receive. This is a great way to show an employer that you’ve invested time and attention to stay current in your area. Accessing that material on your time makes learning while working possible. Once you are out of grad school, chances are that you will need to do this on a regular basis and having a certificate to show you’ve done your work is worth the investment.

Teacher Uses:

- Remedial Use. Many graduate programs could provide remedial education and training without having to develop new curriculum on their own. This allows your program to be more flexible by addressing any idiosyncrasies in your students’ background without making others repeat material they already know.

- Required Reading. Instead of handing out articles to read, or having book after book assigned only to be skimmed through, give your students a list of MOOCs that cover the information. Give them more options than they need and let them pick a few. In the time before starting a course, give them access to a survey MOOC to prepare them for more focused classroom time.

- Peer Instruction. Divide several areas of knowledge between students and have them complete a corresponding MOOC. Then they can present either in groups or individually to teach everyone else and show mastery over an area. Or have students prepare presentations on competing ideas and have a class debate. Covering material outside of the classroom enhances your face to face time.

As more MOOCs become available, the landscape of our education transforms into a hybrid space combining classrooms, computers, living rooms, and offices. Finding ways to make education more efficient and effective means adapting to these new innovations and utilizing MOOCs to supplement your grad school experience.

Written by Ryan English and edited by Laura Morrison, the Content Manager of GradSchools.com. If you’d like to learn more about continuing your education online, find out here.