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A Closer Look at Online Learning

Industry guide: resources and upcoming events.


Most Popular MOOCs

The number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is growing by the day. Here are some of the most popular courses.

About: With more than 70 institutions including MIT, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley, contributing classes and 4.5 million students who’ve registered an account, edX is one of the best-known providers of MOOCs, offering more than 500 courses in all. Completion rates range from 5 to 7 percent but rise to 60 to 80 percent for students who purchase verified certificates of completion at a cost of $25 to $99, depending on the course.

Most popular course: HarvardX: CS50x—Introduction to Computer Science

More than 420,000 students are enrolled in Harvard University’s self-paced, entry-level computer science class, taught by David Malan. They complete nine problem sets, which take from 10 to 20 hours each, and complete a final project.

Canvas Network
About: Canvas Network offers more than 300 courses from 160 institutions. As of June, it had 68,800 students actively taking 66 classes, with another 20 about to start.

Most popular course: Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead

Of the 65,562 students who enrolled in this eight-week class sponsored by the University of California, Irvine, 3,783 finished. Professors Zuzana Bic, Michael Denin, Sarah Eichhorn, and Joanne Christopherson schooled students on everything from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to how infectious diseases spread to the prospects for nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world.

About: Coursera offers more than 1,000 free classes from 122 institutions and boasts more than 13.7 million student accounts; it’s achieved broad popularity across the globe. The classes are free, but students can opt to receive a certificate for a fee that varies depending on the course.

Most popular course: Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects

Offered through the University of California, San Diego, the class attracted 535,498 active learners in the past year. Students watch four hours of video about how to effectively learn new subjects and complete three hours of exercises. Then they can opt to complete another three hours of bonus material. The full course is available in English and Portuguese, and video subtitles are also offered in Spanish and Ukrainian.

About: FutureLearn, based in the U.K., provides classes from 67 institutions in various countries and had 970,000 active students as of May. It has offered more than 190 classes so far and has 19 courses running currently.

Most popular course: Understanding IELTS

Four hundred thirty thousand students from more than 150 countries joined this six-week class, which started in May. It focuses on skills to pass the International English Language Testing System exam, a widely accepted requirement for nonnative English speakers who are starting new jobs, immigrating, or going to universities. It is not, however, the ­FutureLearn course with the highest rate of participation—at least not yet. That title goes to an eight-week class on England’s King Richard III, with more than 10,000 enrollees: 3,336 of them completed most of the course.


iPads < Teachers
by Peg Tyre
Bright, April 2015

More schools are embracing technologies that give students one-on-one instruction. Can they help students in low-income households get a better education? Education journalist and author Tyre discusses some of the limitations of these new teaching methods and why schools will still need good teachers after investing in technology.

The Upwardly Mobile Barista
by Amanda Ripley
The Atlantic, May 2015

To offset the exorbitantly high costs that keep many Starbucks workers from finishing college, the company teamed with Arizona State University to reimburse employees who decide to go back to school while working part time. In an exclusive look at the first months of the program, Ripley follows some of the ambitious employees who took Starbucks up on the offer and finds mixed

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens
by Benedict Carey
Random House, September 2014

An award-winning science reporter for the New York Times uncovers some surprising research about how our brains take in and store information, and how some counterintuitive methods can make learning easier.

The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere
by Kevin Carey
Riverhead Books, March 2014

According to education researcher Carey, in the future a quality education will no longer require an expensive degree from an ultracompetitive college. In this book, he explains how MOOCs are sowing the seeds of a new type of college experience he calls “The University of Everywhere,” which future students anywhere in the world will access for free.

What Are MOOCs Good For?
by Justin Pope
MIT Technology Review, December 2014

Many of the world’s best colleges now allow anyone in the world to take a class with their most renowned professors for free, thanks to the “massive open online courses” commonly known as MOOCs. But the mere fact that anyone can take a course does not mean he or she will complete it, and research has shown that the dropout rates are very high. Still, these classes continue to grow. In this review, a former Associated Press education reporter ticks off some of the benefits that MOOCs do provide.

Learning Online: What Research Tells Us About Whether, When and How
by Barbara Means, Marianne Bakia, and Robert Murphy
Routledge, March 2014

In this review of research about online learning, the authors examine what we know so far about how effective this approach is and which methods best serve different types of students and subjects.

2014 Results from the SIIA Vision K–20 Survey
by MMS Education
Software & Information Industry Association, June 2014

This report from the main trade organization for education software companies analyzes the responses of 1,000 teachers surveyed about technology trends in education. One main finding is that educators expect to see more students bringing their own devices to school. SIIA recently announced the winners of its annual CODiE awards for software developers.

Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice
by John Watson, Larry Pape, Amy Murin, Butch Gemin, and Lauren Vashaw
Evergreen Education Group, October 2014

This report from Colorado’s Evergreen Education Group gives a state-by-state overview of education policies and tracks technology trends across private, public, and charter schools.

Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States
by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman
Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, February 2015

This report has tracked online learning in U.S. higher education for 12 years. This edition features survey results from 2,800 colleges about the virtual classes they offer, as well as educators’ opinions about technology trends like MOOCs.

HarvardX and MITx: Two Years of Open Online Courses Fall 2012–Summer 2014
by Andrew Dean Ho, Isaac Chuang, Justin Reich, Cody Austun Coleman, Jacob Whitehill, Curtis G. Northcutt, Joseph Jay Williams, John D. Hansen, Glenn Lopez, and Rebecca Petersen
Social Science Research Network, March 2015

Researchers analyze two years of data from 68 MOOCs offered through edX, the MOOC partnership between Harvard and MIT.


September 30–October 2, 2015
Las Vegas

ICDLE2015: 6th International Conference on Distance Learning and Education
October 12–13, 2015

2nd International Conference on e-Learning, e-Education, and Online Training
September 16–18, 2015
Novedrate, Italy

iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium
November 8–11, 2015
Orlando, Florida

ICERI2015: 8th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
November 16–18, 2015
Seville, Spain

December 2–4, 2015

FETC 2016 Education Technology Conference
January 12–15, 2016
Orlando, Florida

January 20–23, 2016

eLearning 2016
February 14–17, 2016
Scottsdale, Arizona

March 7–10, 2016
Austin, Texas

Learning Solutions Conference & Expo
March 16–18, 2016
Orlando, Florida

SITE 2016
March 21–25, 2016
Savannah, Georgia

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