Document Details

Title Whatever happened to the promise of online learning? The state of global online higher education
Author Richard Garrett - OBHE


In 2017/18, The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education paid particular attention to online learning and blended learning, conducting a series of country case studies which culminated with this comprehensive report.

The stimulus for OBHE’s case study series was the tension between the scope, diversity and relative maturity of online higher education around the world, and the near absence of studies assessing the significance of online higher education on a global or cross-border level.

Case studies were published on: China (forthcoming), Egypt, England, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sub-Saharan Africa, United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America. Among the countries looked at, five categories emerge:

- Distance, Not Online. Large distance learning sector with little or no use of online learning beyond some MOOC enthusiasm (e.g. Egypt, India)
- Marginal. Strong growth in campus enrolment, with some online elements. Most distance learning is blended with in-person study centres (e.g. Saudi Arabia, UAE)
- Blurred Growth. A poorly defined combination of informal, distance and online learning enrolment continues to out-perform the overall market (e.g. Mexico, Spain)
- Clear Growth. A clear online distance learning sector continues to out-perform the overall market (e.g. United States)
- Peaked/Decline. Online enrolment growth has been at the expense of the national distance university. Online enrolment is peaking or is in decline (e.g. England, South Korea)

What is common to all the countries considered is that online distance learning has yet to command more than 15% market share, implementation of online elements as part of a face-to-face experience is uneven, multifarious and hard to track within and between institutions, and online learning has little to no association with cost or price reduction. Moreover, outcomes data for online students is rarely reported at institutional or national level, but what data there is tends to position online learning outcomes as below average. The value proposition of online degrees quickly defaults to little more than flexibility and convenience.

But while it is fair to say that the big promises of online learning have generally speaking not come to fruition, the access, quality and cost challenges of higher education globally have not gone away. At this stage in our work, OBHE forecasts three scenarios:

Scenario 1: Online as Supplement. On this scenario, the future of online learning looks like the past. The technology adds useful functionality but supplements rather than transforms the conventional classroom. A relatively small minority of students study fully online, driven by pragmatism rather than a conviction that the experience is inherently superior.

Scenario 2: Online as Revolution (finally). Looking back, the mistake made by early advocates of online learning was timing not substance. First generation online was too limited but the capabilities of today and tomorrow- high performance two-way video, adaptive learning and simulations- transcend the shortcomings of routine in-person learning.

Scenario 3: Online Is Not the Point. The line between technology and pedagogy is blurred. Delivery mode can be a vehicle for pedagogy and shape it, but it is sound, purposeful pedagogy that fosters learning, not delivery mode alone. Many studies have concluded that a combination of in-person and online learning produces the best results, with pedagogy leading the way.

Date 16/07/2018
Region(s) Africa, North America, Middle East & Gulf States, Europe, Asia
Countries Egypt, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia , United Kingdom, Spain, South Korea, Malaysia, India, China, United States
Theme(s) All Themes

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