Blended Learning, Continuing Education, Cost of Education, Domestic, Education Quality, Ethics, International, Investors, Minorities, equity, and access, Not-for-Profit, Public education, Required, University & College - Written by on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 8:20 - 0 Comments

Watch Out Edu Profiteers: UK’s Open University Ideas Are Coming To America

by OpenSourceWay via Flickr under CreativeCommons

The Open University idea spawned in Europe and flowing to other parts of the world is a fast-growing and innovative approach in digital learning and blended learning. It is a player/trend to watch in 2012.

The Washington Post and The Hechinger Report at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College co-published a piece Dec. 25 about the Open University in the U.K. and how its idea of free, open-sourced classes is spreading worldwide, including to the US. The British government was ahead of its time when it founded and funded the university in the 1970s. The program geared to adult learners and those who were not quite ready for college opened up educational opportunities for a wider group of people. Now, some institutions in the U.S. are testing this model. That idea could be another big threat to For-Profit colleges and the private equity firms that are investing in them. We expect the U.S. to pick up this trend in 2012 as Khan Academy and others show strands of it taking place. Community colleges are well-suited to tap into the Open University free and remedial courses  idea… and it makes colleges more competitive against for-profit colleges that also cater to working students, minority students and adult learners. Here’s what’s happening and what’s coming writes Jon Marcus: 

Open University, founded by the British government 40 years ago, has had success at this with a handful of free, at-your-own-pace courses meant to widen access to degrees that were once largely the preserve of the nation’s upper classes. The courses target students who are ill-prepared, self-conscious and therefore unlikely to enroll in conventional colleges.

Now, the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $750,000 to adapt two of these courses for about a dozen U.S. colleges this year, including Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland and the University of Maryland University College.

One of the Open University courses offered free to U.S. students teaches college-level study skills. The other focuses on a subject many dread: math. The course is intended to do more than instill confidence. It’s designed to help students do better on placement tests or move more quickly through remedial math courses that foil the aspirations of countless would-be college graduates.

Nearly two-thirds of first-year U.S. students must take at least one remedial class before their college careers can even begin. Such classes aren’t typically covered by financial aid and don’t yield any academic credit. Of those who need the most remedial math work, only 16 percent complete the requirements within three years. Many of the rest just give up. It’s not only the students who are affected. Remediation costs community colleges as much as $2.3 billion a year and four-year universities $500 million, according to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“Remedial math has become the largest single barrier to student advancement,” said Robyn Toman, a math professor at Anne Arundel, where more than 70 percent of students need remedial courses — 98 percent of them in at least math. “For a lot of students, it literally kills their dream.”

At Open University, 13,000 students who have tried the OpenLearn free courses in math and other topics have gone on to pursue degrees. Classes typically combine Internet instruction with audio, video, in-person and online study groups, tutors and tests. Administrators say students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who first took an OpenLearn course fared better in subsequent courses than those who didn’t.

At its campus in Milton Keynes, halfway between London and Birmingham, the university develops online courses using eye-tracking gear, banks of recording equipment, heart-rate monitors and focus groups monitored from behind one-way glass.

Inspired by an American series of radio lectures, Open University delivered its first classes via television in 1971. Today it’s the largest university in Britain; it has 195,000 students there and 55,000 others in the rest of the world.

The university is partially credited with increasing the proportion of 18- to 24-year-old Britons with some level of higher education, which has gone from 14 percent in 1970 to 45 percent today. More than 60 percent of Open University’s students are women, and 70 percent work while enrolled. The median age is 31.

Link to story (“U.K. online university offers help for U.S. Colleges”) in The Washington Post


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