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College Presidents: Hybrid Will Have Bigger Impact than MOOCs

While college presidents are skeptical about massive open online courses (MOOCs), they see plenty of potential "positive impact" with hybrid courses that blend face-to-face and online learning as well as adaptive learning that uses technology to modify lessons based on the progress shown by students.

These results come out of a January 2014 survey about innovations in higher education performed by The Chronicle of Higher Education and sponsored by Blackboard. The research for "The Innovative University: What College Presidents Think About Change in American Higher Education" compiled responses by 349 presidents at four-year public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities.

College presidents don't care for massive open, online courses or open content, for that matter. In fact MOOCs fall at the bottom of the list of innovations that these leaders believe will have the "most positive" impact on American higher education in the future." Only two percent of respondents said they foresee a positive impact. In fact, when asked whether MOOCs were "worth the hype" and made education better, 66 percent of presidents disagreed. Free and open education resources are viewed favorably only incrementally more — with 10 percent predicting a positive impact.

At the top of the list of innovations that will have a positive impact are hybrid courses, chosen by 81 percent of respondents, and adaptive learning, selected by 61 percent. While a large majority of surveyed colleges offer hybrid courses, only 41 percent of the presidents said they believe their faculty get enough support in rethinking how to teach their courses in the blended or hybrid format.

In the future, warned a third of respondents, it's possible that only the "wealthy" will be able to get the "immersive, in-person experience" available at elite colleges; everyone else can expect the lower-cost mostly online experience.

While presidents said that right now most attention is given to the changes wrought by the cutting of costs and the use of technology and online tools, the emphasis should actually be on changes to the model of teaching and learning.

In discussing higher education on a national plane, where does the influence come from? Politicians lead the ranking for presidents of public institutions, followed by business leaders and then the presidents themselves. In private schools, the power is ascribed to politicians, presidents and the media, in that order. Faculty influence for both groups is "quite low." However, when they were asked who should be the "driving forces," public college presidents chose faculty "by a clear margin"; private college presidents chose themselves, a "hair ahead" of faculty.

"Years ago, disruption to the higher education business model was not something widely discussed among institutional leaders," said Jay Bhatt, CEO of Blackboard. "Times have changed. This report emphasizes that schools of all types and leaders at all levels are being forced to reevaluate what it means to be relevant. We need a reimagined educational experience that directly connects learners to success."

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