Here’s what students say about online education

Cost continues to be one of students’ biggest concerns when it comes to making decisions about online education, according to a new survey about the state of online learning.

Surveyed students said cost estimates, finding funding sources, and navigating the financial aid process is confusing and challenging.

Seventy-two percent of students said job and employments goals are the primary drivers of their enrollment, including transitioning to a new career field (36 percent) and earning academic credentials in a current field of work (32 percent).

The 2017 Online Education Trends Report from BestColleges.com surveyed more than 300 school administrators and 1,500 students to gain information about current experiences in online education.

Next page: Why did students select their specific online education program?

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Students and IT pros weigh in on cybersecurity

Across the country, colleges and universities are on high alert to protect against cyber attacks. From WannaCry to Petya, the recent proliferation of ransomware, malware, and distributed denial of service attacks are cause for concern, thanks to institutions’ open environments and rich stores of personally identifiable information. According to Gemalto, education-data breaches doubled in the first half of 2017.

College IT teams strive to protect their campuses, but IT pros are only part of the equation. For adequate protection, students must also play an active role in cyber safety. CDW-G’s recent survey of 250 higher education IT professionals and 300 students took a closer look at the cybersecurity efforts and concerns of both groups.

Prevention is best

The best way to protect against the potentially disastrous effects of cyber attacks is to prevent them. Yet, no matter how much work IT pros put into developing strong training programs and guidelines, if their efforts are not embraced by–or effectively communicated to–users, the value of their efforts diminishes. Eighty-two percent of IT pros surveyed by CDW-G say that they require students to take IT cybersecurity training at least once per year; however, only 35 percent of students say the same. Additionally, while 81 percent of students say their institutions’ ability to protect university and student data is very important, 74 percent of students are concerned with their institutions’ ability to do so.

(Next page: More ways IT can improve cybersecurity)

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4 reasons why student success is misdefined in higher ed and how data can fix it

What is student success? Let’s start with the most fundamental definition: completing and receiving a degree. For decades, national completion rates have hovered around 20-30 percent in three years for an associate’s degree and 50-60 percent in six years for undergraduate degrees.

Here’s the problem: The data is not actionable and is enabling low-expectations creep, such as setting expectations that a six-year completion rate is a success metric for first-time full-time students in a four-year program. Low-expectations creep can best be summed up by Eberhardt Rechtin:

“High expectations, because they are unlikely to be fulfilled, define failure… low expectations, because they are likely to be accomplished, define success.”

Our messy definition of success
1. It is very hard to find applied definitions of student success that are not, at the heart, derivatives of failure or risk. A classic student-success initiative begins by collecting data on dropouts and uses that as a proxy for reducing failure, rather than for scaling success.

2. When risk data is analyzed to personalize success plans, too often socio-demographics such as income, zip code, gender, and race become the focus. A very real consequence of this practice is that risk labels are assigned to student sub-groups before they even arrive at an institution. By age 17 or older, students are savvy at recognizing how they are being esteemed by an ecosystem, so this approach is limiting and counter-productive for both the student and the institution.

3. Many definitions deconstruct the student experience into a single process or point of retention. For example, randomly asking representatives from admissions, retention, and career services departments for their definition of or data on student success yields unique, short-term answers.

4. Rarely do definitions incorporate student expectations, or that of their families. Success is a grade, a score, or something done to them, rather than with them.

(Next page: Why we need to collect data on a different subset)

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3 ways to actually support nontraditional learners

Nearly 60 percent of today’s U.S. undergraduate students are nontraditional learners, according to new research–and institutions can follow a few key steps to support these learners.

Nontraditional students, as noted in the report, are students who are 25 or older, working full-time, are financially independent, or are connected with the military. These students include single parents, immigrants, veterans, and those working full-time jobs.

The Post-traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited: Aligning Postsecondary Education with Real Life for Adult Student Success, from the American Council on Education (ACE), notes that more than 1 million Americans could get out of poverty if everyone in the U.S. 25 years or older, with some college but no degree, earned an associate degree.

“Helping more non-traditional learners earn a degree would have lasting and transformative effects on our society, economy, and higher education,” said Louis Soares, lead author of Revisited and ACE’s vice president for strategy, research, and advancement. “Of the 23 million undergraduates, more than 13 million are nontraditional learners. Some start a degree but don’t finish it, racking up debt and adding to their financial burdens.”

(Next page: 3 policy areas that merit immediate attention)

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3 ways to improve student retention

Higher education is at a crossroads. Today, only half of students who enter college in the U.S. actually complete their degree within six years. Many first-generation college students are dropping out.

Research shows that student retention is not just about financial aid and grades—it’s about making students feel connected to the institution, including faculty and peers to help them overcome obstacles that will inevitably come up throughout the college experience.

This research truly resonates when I talk with advisors, many of whom share stories about needing more information to help them understand what’s really happening with the students they are trying to serve. From knowing what social activities a student is engaged in to how often a student is visiting the tutoring center, advisors tell me that having the full picture means they can guide students toward the right choices and get out in front of problems before they emerge.

So how do we help every student succeed?

(Next page: 3 ways to tackle student retention)

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Why you should approach “fluidity” in mobile technology–because miracles can happen

In September 2012, while speaking at a global conference on educational transformation in Toronto, I predicted  that I would witness two computational miracles in my lifetime. The first of these miracles had already occurred. Over the span of just 15 years, I had watched the power of a Cray Research Supercomputer be placed in the palm of a student’s hand via a smartphone. The second miracle, I said then, would come in the next few years: Student information systems (SISs) would be placed in the palms of all students’ hands, allowing them to personalize their educational experience and navigate their own pathways to success.

I had a front-row seat to that first miracle. I started my engineering and computer career at Cray Research and spent 12 years mesmerized by the power of supercomputing while training others how to run and operate such computational power. Next, I worked at Sungard Higher Education, now known as Ellucian, where I watched supercomputing move inside classrooms and eventually to smartphones.

In 2014, I made one more transition–to Oral Roberts University (ORU). The Board of Trustees and president quickly made clear that we had a mandate to use technology to provide the entire world with “whole-person education,” educating students in mind, body, and spirit. Just a few years later, ORU celebrated the grand opening of its world-class, state-of-the-art Global Learning Center. The center will provide mobile connectivity from anywhere in the world to ORU’s whole-person education initiatives and our SIS.

Since then, it’s become clear that the second miracle I predicted has come true: Students have incredible access to all critical academic and campus services through their smartphones. A student at ORU today can use their mobile phone to check the availability of all washing and drying machines–or even be alerted that their laundry is done–while they are studying at Starbucks or shopping at the mall across town. At the same time, an online student in Singapore can watch their course content or review their grades while talking to their classmates or teacher through videoconference tools. A student on spring break in Nigeria can wear their Fitbit and have their health data uploaded to a gradebook anytime their smartphone or wearable watch connects to a hotspot.

(Next page: Focusing on fluidity instead of mobility)

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6 emerging cyberlearning areas

Six emerging design themes are impacting cyberlearning, or the future of learning with technology, according to a new report.

Cyberlearning researchers investigate this learning future, and while many cyberlearning projects are in initial stages and don’t aim to produce market-ready products, they do yield early results with proof-of-concept designs or theoretical insights.

Those researchers also believe they can explore how people learn by designing innovative technologies that draw from findings from the learning sciences and experimenting with those designs in real-world settings.

The report, which summarizes emerging cyberlearning areas and focuses on a handful of guiding questions, is organized by The Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL) and is co-authored by 22 members of the U.S. cyberlearning community.

(Next page: Six emerging cyberlearning areas)

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What does experiential learning look like?

The term millennial is a word that big education aspires to connect with, yet has trouble relating to. Too often in higher education it simply means 20-somethings, and the question then becomes: “How do we market to millennials so they understand that education is an experience?”

Make no mistake–experiential learning is a requirement. It only intensifies as you move up the educational ladder. Concepts become multi-faceted and gray. They are no longer black-and-white with correct answers, but rather a multitude of scenarios requiring critical thinking to arrive at one of infinite possible solutions. And for that reason, college is a valuable experience. Never mind the social and cultural elements–college excels at teaching you how to think.

The new paradigm

But, getting to that point in the discussion requires a foundation. Learning to enable discussion and go to the next level used to be done by reading books and taking notes. For better or worse, that’s no longer engaging–at least not in the way that today’s learners expect. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Netflix, and others now command an average of 2.5 hours of daily viewing by the public. This is education’s competition, as those platforms have found a way to capture interest by delivering a personalized and adaptive experience to the user.

(Next page: How edtech companies are aiding higher learning)

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3 ways to improve student retention

Higher education is at a crossroads. Today, only half of students who enter college in the U.S. actually complete their degree within six years. Many first-generation college students are dropping out.

Research shows that student retention is not just about financial aid and grades—it’s about making students feel connected to the institution, including faculty and peers to help them overcome obstacles that will inevitably come up throughout the college experience.

This research truly resonates when I talk with advisors, many of whom share stories about needing more information to help them understand what’s really happening with the students they are trying to serve. From knowing what social activities a student is engaged in to how often a student is visiting the tutoring center, advisors tell me that having the full picture means they can guide students toward the right choices and get out in front of problems before they emerge.

So how do we help every student succeed?

(Next page: 3 ways to tackle student retention)

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Most institutions developing online programs have it all wrong—here’s how to do it right Copy

Most higher education institutions developing online courses and programs have it all wrong.

Every day, we speak to universities that are looking to launch new online-learning initiatives, and many of these conversations start with the same question: “How do we put these courses online?”

By asking a few initial questions of our own, we’ve found that most institutions tend to anchor their thinking to their existing on-campus courses. This approach is limiting at best, and a recipe for mediocrity in many cases.

Instead of thinking about your new online initiative—whether it’s a single course or an entire degree program—as a generic rework of your on-campus courses, we recommend thinking of it as an entirely new educational experience. A new product. One that demands that you carefully evaluate all your requirements and ensure the program is designed specifically with your target audience of current students and prospective students in mind.

In other words, approach the process as a product company would when planning to launch a new offering.

(Next page: How to develop an online-learning program)

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