The evolution of online learning has been fascinating.
Only a few years ago, online courses were seen as a distant and somewhat odd member of the educational family. Over time, and with the help of a federal study showing its effectiveness, online learning has moved into the mainstream.
The 10% growth in online enrollments in colleges and universities greatly exceeded the traditional enrollment growth of 2% last year — and, according to the Babson Group, 31% of college students now take at least one course online.
That trend has moved younger, as more and more secondary students are now taking online courses. A new report from the Evergreen Education Group, entitled Keeping Pace 2012,highlights states that have approved fully online K12 schools.
Six states (Alabama, Idaho, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia) have gone so far as to require an online course as a graduation requirement.
The more recent emergence of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) has complicate the landscape, as individual faculty and/or schools have begun to create free open enrollment courses that are attracting tens of thousands of students.
While things are evolving and a number of high profile universities have joined forces in new consortium (edX or Coursera), a sticking point has been that these courses offer nothing more than a certificate of completion and a pat on the back. No credit or credential to take to an employer.
In another development, a new group of colleges has joined together to launch a new online consortium, but one that will charge for classes and offer credit. Formed by universities such as Duke, Northwestern, and the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, they expect to offer up to 30 courses next fall to their currently enrolled students (and included in their regular tuition) but also to open these courses up to other students who are willing to pay.
It is too early to see how this might play out, but the movement to offer credit is significant. MOOCs and school consortiums offer enormous potential to open educational opportunities for students, but the real growth is being held back by the uncertainty over credentialing.
The evolution is happening rapidly enough that students in high school today should see some significant new opportunities in the next few years.