Investing in the Future of Online Higher Education


Dustin York:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that a third of the American workforce would be transitioning careers in the next five years. And this prediction came just before the COVID outbreak. Online learning is going to be key to this transition. Just like Zillow makes buying houses better and self-driving cars makes driving cars better. Technology is going to make higher education better. Universities investing in the student learning journey, the student experience during that journey, and the value of that credentialing is going to be absolutely paramount. And the best thing is now doing with online learning, education is no longer based by geography. You can get the best education from the best resources anywhere in the world. Innovation with online education is going to disrupt this immensely.

And good online education doesn’t mean that me, the professor, I’m going to take knowledge in my brain and put it into your brain. It’s not going to work that way. Instead, a faculty’s role, really, is providing tactical up-to-date information that the students can use in their academic, professional, and community worlds. They provide thought-provoking questions that they can discuss with students, get their input in how they feel the world’s going to be impacted by those thoughts. And then finally, keep students on a pathway towards success. If we’re talking about tactics, what is tactically working right now, at least for myself and online?

One is industry-relevant certificates. If you pass my social media class, for example, you’ll leave with a Google Analytics Certificate. Now you can just take a Google Analytics Certificate, but encompassing that in the class means the class is always up-to-date and the discussions that we’re having are always up-to-date to meet those Google certification requirements. Outside of just the certificate, you obviously have to know the macro level of what these analytics are doing in the marketplace.

We’re doing really cool things with active learning online. Where when I was an undergraduate, I had online classes. Online classes aren’t a new thing by any means. But when I took them, they were a lot of pages. I just read a bunch and took a quiz. Read a bunch, did a discussion post, wrote a bunch, took a quiz. Now there are in my class, there are interactive puzzles. I have set-ups where there are videos and what would you do in this circumstance? And you click your way through to see what you would do in that practitioner’s circumstance. Students are creating businesses in a shark tank experiment where we for three weeks create an entrepreneurial project building in things like keywords, logos, messaging strategies for entrepreneurial business.

I’m also supporting students with written, video and audio opportunities to gain information. We update these all the time, just like these videos. But if you’re a video person, you love YouTube, video may be up your alley. You may like to read. So those are options. There are graphs that are options. Perhaps you’re someone who says, “Hey, I’m a podcast person.” For all of my videos in the classes, we’ve taken all the videos and ripped the audio out in podcast form, so sure you want to go for a 5K run and listen to your class information, go for it.

It’s something I’ve found that works very well is offering optional synchronous meeting times for my online students. For example, when I first became a professor, I thought all of my student meetings for office hours would be students coming to my office, asking questions about social media metrics, persuasion, the future of media, public relations, advertising, things of that nature. Actually, over half of those student meetings are about careers, advice for careers and ideas to progress their careers. What hurdles they’ll face. What suggestions that I would have for them to progress their careers right now. Maybe pivoting careers or starting your career.

And one of the most impactful pieces is actually that marriage between business and the classroom. Bringing together where my classroom doesn’t live on its own on some island somewhere. We are connecting with for-profit, non-for-profit businesses, locally, nationwide, bringing them into the classroom to be class clients, to use them as case studies, to guest lecture or to be on a panel in the classroom. Bringing both of those together is definitely the future of education online and on ground. And speaking of the future, there’s a lot of areas for online education to grow from here. Is it done or perfect? By no means whatsoever. I feel like the next few years, we’re going to see a catapult of quality, specifically in higher education, to support students’ outcomes.

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