“Digital technology has already changed the way colleges and universities function, but no matter how significant those changes feel today, real transformation is just beginning. Every day, a new program in online learning is announced, and on the horizon is the promise of using new adaptive learning technologies —or what we have come to call Interactive Learning Online—to educate more students than ever before at lower cost and with similar or even better learning outcomes.” – Page 2 of the report below
From the report “Barriers to Adoption of Online Learning Systems in U.S. Higher Education” by the not-for-profit organization Ithaka (here, page 6):
This is an exciting time in higher education. Literally for the first time in centuries, faculty and administrators are questioning their basic approach to educating students. The traditional model of lectures coupled with smaller recitation sections (sometimes characterized as “the sage on the stage”) is yielding to a dizzying array of technology-enabled pedagogical innovations. Virtually every institution we encountered is experimenting with online instruction. The rationale, form, and strategy differ from institution to institution, but change is occurring and, we believe, at an accelerating rate. As with any profound institutional change, skeptics abound and outright resistance exists. That said, we believe that online educational technology will bring about fundamental reform in how teachers teach and students learn in the years to come. Whether these reforms will also significantly lower the cost of education remains an open question…..
…To help clarify this situation, we invented a new term to describe more precisel y the form of online learning we wish to investigate: “Interactive Learning Online” or ILO. By ILO we mean highly sophisticated, interactive technologies in which instruction is delivered online and is largely machine-guided (although of course such technologies may be used in conjunction with more traditional modes of instruction). The best of these systems rely on increasingly sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence, drawing on usage data collected from hundreds of thousands of students, to deliver customized instruction tailored to an individual student’s specific needs—a technology often termed “adaptive.” These systems also allow instructors to track students’ progress through a course of study at a fine-grained level of detail, thereby enabling more targeted and effective guidance. Such systems are far beyond the capability of individual instructors to create on their own, and are typically developed by teams of cognitive scientists, software engineers, instructional designers, and user interface experts. Relatively few ILO systems currently exist, and full implementation of any that do exist remains quite rare. However, the technology is currently in a state of rapid evolution, and we believe it is possible that a wide variety of such systems, of varying quality and sophistication, will proliferate in the next three to five years….
Rather than merely looking for ways to enhance the undergraduate educational experience, we believe that academic leaders must also look explicitly for strategies to lower costs. We are not saying that many educational leaders lack courage (though, sadly, some do). Controlling costs will be a hard sell, in part because strong forces are pushing in opposite directions and, as one of our advisers said candidly, “those opposed have so many ways of throwing sand in the wheels.” But we also believe that the potential for online learning to help reduce costs without adversely affecting educational outcomes is very real. Absent strong leadership, however, we fear that any productivity gains from online education will only be used to gild the educational lily.