Learning Online About Online Learning: EduMOOC 2011

Jul 07, 2011

Even though scholars have been researching online education for at least fifteen years, there is still much to be discovered. The state of research on online education was the topic of today's session of eduMOOC 2011, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that is currently being offered by the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield.'s Education Insider was (virtually) there to get the inside information.

By Jessica Balik

What We Know and How We Know It

There were three experts on today's one-hour panel discussion: Karen Swan, Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield; Phil Ice, Vice President of the American Public University System; and Ben Arbaugh, the John McNaughton Rosebush Professor of Management at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Two primary questions they addressed are what is currently known about online education, and how this information is known.

Two promising studies have indicated that the online courses can be at least as effective as ones held in traditional classrooms. A meta-analysis of online learning studies, conducted in 2010 by the United States Department of Education, reached this exciting conclusion. Furthermore, Swan noted that the National Survey of Student Engagement has indicated that online learning can actually be more engaging than face-to-face instruction.Student engagement can depend upon a number of factors, so it's important for educators and students to look at these studies as part of a larger, ongoing discussion and not as the final word.

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Lingering Questions

Today's session also addressed issues with online learning that are insufficiently explored within existing research. As Ice explained, since attrition rates tend to be higher in online courses than in real-world ones, it is especially important for future scholars to research any factors affecting student retention. His own research has already suggested that 'social presence,' meaning the ability of an individual student to perceive other online learners as real people, can positively impact re-enrollment. Another area in need of further study is how well online students are actually learning. To this end, today's panelists emphasized the need for studies spanning multiple institutions, as well as the need for more scholars to study online teaching and learning.

Today's panel was the second of eight weekly discussions of eduMOOC 2011. Next week's session will focus on the technologies that online education uses. Check in next week for the Education Insider's report.

Interested in learning more about MOOCs? Check our recent post on edupunks, then join the discussion on Twitter using #edumooc2.

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