A couple of surveys from Pew Research Center conducted in spring 2011 have shed some interesting light on online courses and, indeed, on surveys in general. I can't help but wonder had Diplo Internet governance alumni been polled, would the results have been any different. For instance, according to Pew, only 29% of the general public thinks that online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom but that 51% of college presidents surveyed say their online courses offer the same value. Now, if you live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, or in the City of London, or indeed in any other cosmopolitan centre in the world, then perhaps this might hold true. But what if you're living hundreds of miles from the nearest university, on a different island altogether perhaps, then what? What if you simply can't afford to take the time off work to study in situ? What if your access to mainstream education is limited to Internet connection? How then do you measure value?
More and more students are taking advantage of the flexibility offered by online learning. According to these surveys, about one-in-four college graduates (23%) report that they have taken a class online. But if we narrow that down to the last ten years, this figure doubles to 46%. We have seen a similar trend at Diplo with the numbers enrolling in our online Internet governance courses increasing with each new call. Interestingly, those same college presidents predict that in ten years' time, half of all students will be studying online.
Is there a connection perhaps with the subject being studied? Let's take Internet governance or ICT policy - it seems somewhat appropriate to study both these topics using the medium which is at their core - the Internet. But let's be clear about what we mean by online learning. It's not simply a matter of downloading text and returning set assignments via e-mail. Diplo's online classrooms bring together professionals from all over the world, each with their particular experience and knowledge, ready to share for the greater good. Blogs and forums augment the virtual classroom and conversations and discussions flow. Friendships blossom and networks comes come life. The only difference perhaps is that you can't actually see your classmates.
Perhaps one of the more salient points revealed by the study is that nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital. Educational textbook publisher McGraw-Hill is already gearing up to the challenge. In response to a new California state law requiring that all textbooks used in public and private post-secondary institutions be made available digitally by the year 2020, the publisher already offers digital versions of 95% of its current higher education titles. In Florida, a recent budget proposal advocates that all Florida schools adopt digital textbooks by the 2015-16 school year and spend at least 50% of their textbook budget on digital materials by that time.
Interesting times lie ahead.