So, I was really interested to read this April article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Selingo on the future of college education:
As online learning extends its reach, though, it is starting to run into a major obstacle: There are undeniable advantages, as traditional colleges have long known, to learning in a shared physical space. Recognizing this, some online programs are gradually incorporating elements of the old-school, brick-and-mortar model—just as online retailers such as Bonobos and Warby Parker use relatively small physical outlets to spark sales on their websites and increase customer loyalty. Perhaps the future of higher education sits somewhere between the physical and the digital.
A recent move by the online-degree provider 2U exemplifies this hybrid strategy. The company partnered with WeWork, the co-working firm, to let 2U students enrolled in its programs at universities, such as Georgetown and USC, to use space at any WeWork location to take tests or meet with study groups. “Many of our students have young families,” said Chip Paucek, the CEO and co-founder of 2U. “They can’t pick up and move to a campus, yet often need the facilities of one.”...
As the economy continues to ask more and more of workers, it is unlikely that most campuses will be able to afford to expand their physical facilities to keep up with demand. At the same time, online degrees haven’t been able to gain the market share, or in some cases the legitimacy, that their proponents expected. Perhaps a blending of the physical and the digital is the way forward for both.So, it seems that the limits of purely online learning are being reached, and (some) students are wanting something different. But reading Selingo's article, it still seems to me that it's the self-directed students that are arguing for something more than purely online learning. Again, those are the students who thrive in this model, but they are not necessarily the students that we should be focused on as teachers. And it we are trying to extend the reach of higher education to more non-traditional students, then a move to more blended learning is even more unconvincing to me. I'm still yet to see an online approach that incorporates a meaningful (and effective) way of engaging students below the median of the grade distribution, and keeping them engaged through to course completion.