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5 Most Significant Trends In Online Education


Recently, Wharton University held a forum in its Philadelphia campus to discuss the prospect of online business education. In attendance were key stakeholders in education such as Harvard, Columbia Kellogg, Michigan, and Stanford Universities. Online education providers such as edX, Coursera, and FutureLearn were also present including major financial corporation; AT&T, JP Morgan, Merck, and SAP

Unlike the overly hyped ‘Year of MOOC’ conference back in 2012, this 2-day conference sparked interesting conversations about a noteworthy trend in education. This came at an ideal time given the dynamic nature of online education and the increasing opportunities constantly changing its orientation. Here are 5 essential lessons about online education trends from the conference.

Online Education is Long-term 

There is a significant line of difference between degrees and personal development/executive training programs. The PDs are ideal for people looking to change their careers, update their skill-set to meet the current trends in their jobs or those who want to advance their careers. This translates to a short learning period with a narrowed focus on a specific field of study. 

Degrees, on the other hand, are for the long-term and generally cover a broad area of study. Although much of what is learned during this period may not serve an immediate use, degrees help build a sound intellectual framework. With this, learners develop critical thinking, leadership and communication skills; for the growth of their careers. 

Despite the differences between, it is undeniable that professionals need a solid foundation of the best degree and constant updating of their skills. Online education blends the two, though with much emphasis on short focused programs. 

What this means for business schools is that they can now offer an opportunity for professionals to update their skills. Also, those who didn’t have the privilege of joining business schools can do so through non-degree programs offered in online education mode. 

Focus on B2B

Back when free MOOCs dominated online higher education, the focus was on providing services to students only. However, this b2c business model is steadily shifting focus to b2b model.

What is even better is that this new model involves 2 major contributors. First, are the universities endorsing the content offered on the online learning platforms. For example, Wharton specializations on Coursera, who also get to build their online learning communities and provide moderators to improve the learning experience.

Businesses also play a part in this model by leveraging the online material to help improve the skills of their employees. In addition, managers and other experts in the organization can facilitate learning by adding more information to the online content and building learning communities.

Increasing Popularity of Non-degree Credentials

Judging from several Linkedin profiles, short focused programs are gaining popularity. These ‘specializations’, as they are commonly referred to, are made of a series of online classes for which the learner is awarded a certificate upon completion.

Their growth is further fuelled by the numerous small private online courses (SPOCs), delving deeper into the specialized training programs.

During the conference, the head of edX announced the expansion of ‘MicroMasters’ program, further promoting the adoption of specializations. The MicroMasters will open a new pathway for learners to earn master’s degrees at MIT, Michigan, and other universities.

No Exclusivity

One of the most significant advantages of online education, inclusive model. This has helped welcome lots of partners both university and non-university actors.

Organizations such as Lynda.com, General Assembly and other non-university players have already weighed their weight into the online education model. Their input into the organization of online education has incentivized university actors to focus on the core competencies.   

The non-exclusivity element is further enhanced by low entry barriers, thus attracting more partners with a different kind of input into online education. For instance, Wharton University works closely with edX and Coursera while also partnering with various consulting firms on executive training programs.

It is All About the Learner

With all the afore-mentioned features, it is evident that online education is indeed dynamic. Keeping in mind that this mode of study is still in its infancy stages, the future is brilliant for learners with more opportunities for growth. According to conference participants puts it, “the learner is the winner”.


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