An Expert Interview About Online Learning

An Expert Interview About Online Learning

What is the future of the virtual education environment and is the model effective? We sought out the insights of the top leaders in the tech-ed landscape and compiled the most relevant resources for our own expert interview about online learning. Get inspired as they break down the facts about the innovations that are changing the world and evolving the modern day classroom for the better.

online-learning-concept Is online education trusted?

Online education was once a both revolutionary and scary thought, but today it is a strong trusted source for quality training and learning. According to a recent Gallup poll featured by U.S. News and World Report, 37% of Americans said they agree or strongly agree that online colleges and universities offer high-quality education, which is up 33% from 2012. In addition, one of our favorite stats compiled from the study is that nearly half of American business leaders say they would hire someone with an online degree to work at their company.

"To see the increasing percentage of those who view that as a quality degree, you’re coming into territory where there could easily be a tipping point where people just start to accept online degrees as quality degrees. And I think that’s going to grow enrollments dramatically." – Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.


“As online options become more prevalent among universities, they are earning a reputation as an alternative, but not less prestigious, route. In addition to establishing programs targeting adult populations, some higher education institutions rely on new technology to increase traditional undergraduate and graduate student course and degree enrollment. The trend has influenced educational startup companies to offer innovative learning platforms and professional development opportunities.” – Amy Golod, U.S. News

These facts certainly attest to the quality of teaching and learning in the virtual environment.

Are courses online interactive and engaging?

Those that are skeptical of online learning often argue that in the virtual world students are missing out on the valuable face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors. Experts argue however that technology has actually enhanced interaction and engagement with content by using adaptive learning methods and leveraging the power of data.  Taking college classes online nowadays is very common and gives students the ability to further their education while living a busy life.  Online degrees in criminal justice and business are just 2 examples of the programs that Brandman University is offering.

Adaptive Learning

Consider the effects of adaptive learning. The technique is utilized by millions of students from kindergarten through college in both fully online and blended settings. Its primary feature is that it varies the presentation of content according to the user’s experience which means that education is personalized. Andrew Smith Lewis, co-founder of Cerego, a company that develops this type of technology, describes his system “flashcards on steroids.” Cerego made learning fun by introducing gamification into the learning process. "The mechanics of a successful game are designed to keep you in this band between boredom and frustration," says Cerego's Smith Lewis. "We see a nice uptick in engagement and completion."

Earlier this year we highlighted visionaries Daphne Koller and Salman Khan and their thoughts on the education revolution, and today we revisit their TED Talks and examples of how to design effective and engaging online courses.

“The first component is that when you move away from the constraints of a physical classroom and design content explicitly for an online format, you can break away from, for example, the monolithic one-hour lecture. You can break up the material, for example, into these short, modular units of eight to 12 minutes, each of which represents a coherent concept. Students can traverse this material in different ways, depending on their background, their skills or their interests. So, for example, some students might benefit from a little bit of preparatory material that other students might already have. Other students might be interested in a particular enrichment topic that they want to pursue individually. So this format allows us to break away from the one-size-fits-all model of education, and allows students to follow a much more personalized curriculum.– Koller

Data-Driven Decisions

“So our paradigm is to really arm the teachers with as much data as possible -- really data that, in almost any other field, is expected, if you're in finance or marketing or manufacturing -- and so the teachers can actually diagnose what's wrong with the students so they can make their interaction as productive as possible.” – Kahn


“You can collect every click, every homework submission, every forum post from tens of thousands of students. So you can turn the study of human learning from the hypothesis-driven mode to the data-driven mode, a transformation that, for example, has revolutionized biology. You can use these data to understand fundamental questions like, what are good learning strategies that are effective versus ones that are not? And in the context of particular courses, you can ask questions like, what are some of the misconceptions that are more common and how do we help students fix them?– Koller

Kahn goes on to explain that in a traditional model of learning, most of the teacher’s time is spent on standard activities, lectures, and grading, estimating that about 5% of their time is actually sitting next to students and working directly with them. But online learning technologies have changed all that for the better by humanizing the classroom by a factor of five or ten. That truly is an incredible concept.

How does online education break barriers?

It doesn’t just break barriers, it annihilates them. Education in the virtual world allows students to access information from anywhere in the world, which is a huge advantage when integrating different perspectives into courses. It has the power to create organic connections and communities throughout the world, uniting millions of people while advancing their societal contributions with new skills and knowledge.

Sebastian Thurn, the CEO of Udacity, spoke of the success of his organization’s platform at the World Affairs Council this week by saying, “Education is the thing that empowers people. Today you can find 12-year-old kids in Pakistan taking courses on Udacity. There’s a training center in Ghana that runs these classes. It’s stunning to me how much progress we’ve made in just two years.” This international reach proves the power of online schooling and its ability to connect lifelong learners who would have never had the chance to do so before. Alternatively in Koller’s classes, she found that because of the large online community, students interacted with each other in ways that were often deeper than they had experienced in the context of the physical classroom, saying:

“Students also self-assembled, without any kind of intervention from us, into small study groups. Some of these were physical study groups along geographical constraints and met on a weekly basis to work through problem sets. This is the San Francisco study group, but there were ones all over the world. Others were virtual study groups, sometimes along language lines or along cultural lines, and on the bottom left there, you see our multicultural universal study group where people explicitly wanted to connect with people from other cultures.

The catch 22 with integrating cultures can be the language and cultural barriers and teachers must learn to navigate through it. Brandman University’s own professor Dr. Sheila Lakshmi Steinberg is an expert in creating community in an online environment, and recommends that teachers utilize a “Place-Based Approach.” Her model has six steps including recognizing the physical factors of students' contexts, socio-economic factors, establishing varied types of interactions on an ongoing basis and documenting success.

What does the future hold?

With all of the innovation that has unfolded in recent years, what is around the corner for higher education? Here are just a few of the goals that some of the top movers-and-shakers have to help spread the spirit of lifelong learning.

The Learning Hub Model – NPR says that the future of online ed isn’t heading where you expect. Experts say that a new pioneer has just planted its flag on the ed-tech frontier: the country of Trinidad and Tobago. Its government this week announced the creation of a “national knowledge network” to promote free online learning in partnership with Khan’s very own academy and Coursera. Visitors to will find a curated selection of video-based courses, divided into categories like "entrepreneurship" and "creativity." For some of these courses, Trinidadians will also be able to go to their local campus of the University of Trinidad and meet in person with a facilitator as well as with others taking the same course. It's a global version of the flipped classroom, where the lecture may have been recorded at Vanderbilt or Rice, but the class discussion is unfolding thousands of miles away. There are currently Learning Hubs located at embassies, libraries and universities on five continents.

Creative Commons – Skoll World Forum released a series of articles highlighting interviews from top leaders in the industry. Richard Baraniuk, director and founder of Connexions, a Content Commons of free, open-licensed educational materials, talks about his vision for the future. His company’s goal is to build out a library of books that will have a transformative impact on the market and will save students $750 million within a five year period. The ecosystem of service providers will flourish and the entire movement will be self-sustaining. However, the single biggest gains will be found in learning outcomes as OER becomes integrated with adaptive learning technologies that utilize machine learning algorithms.

At Brandman University, we thank all of the thought leaders that have contributed to the innovations in the field of education, and continue to commit to paving the way for more to come.

Lindsay Amanda

As the Director of New Initiative Development and Implementation at Brandman University and graduate of the school's MBA program, Lindsay Amanda Racen specializes in content, business operations, and communication. She achieved her undergraduate degree in Advertising and Marketing from San Diego State University and studied International Marketing in Barcelona, Spain.

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