Guest post*: New players in distance education

Distance learning has come a long way since the days of postal correspondence courses. The greatest changes have occurred within the past five years as advances in technology and the prevalence of the Internet have opened the door to new modes of online teaching, learning and educational collaboration.
Once restricted to for-profit trade schools, the quality of distance education has improved to such a degree that it is being embraced by public and private elementary schools, as well top-tier colleges and universities. Sophisticated online platforms that take full advantage of digital multimedia and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are creating revolutionary changes in education. Thanks to distance learning, today’s students have opportunities for more flexibility in how they communicate with teachers, attend class and earn a degree than at any other time in history.
Here are three of the most influential US players in the new world of distance education. Despite being in the EdTech space for less than five years, these startups are making a real difference in the educational experience:

In 2011, Sebastian Thrun and a group of Stanford professors opened up free online enrollment for an introductory course in artificial intelligence. The course was being taught on the Stanford campus, with 200 students enrolled. An additional 160,000 people around the world signed up for the online course. Eventually, the majority of on-campus students stopped attending class because they preferred the online version.

Based on the success of this experiment, Thrun founded Udacity with David Stavens and Mike Skolosky. The company currently offers nearly two dozen free interactive college courses, awarding certificates to students who complete assignments and pass final exams. There are also some options for students to receive college credit for Udacity courses after paying for a certified third-party exam.

Founded in 2008 by school technicians Jeff O’Hara and Nicolas Borg, Edmodo harnesses the power of social media to provide a free social learning environment where K-12 teachers can connect with students, parents and administrators. The secure platform has a Facebook-like interface that provides feeds, assignments, grade books, badges and tools for academic collaboration. Students can upload assignments through Edmodo for their teachers to grade, and parents can help their children succeed by checking grades and upcoming assignments.

Edmodo also supports peer-based professional development for educators by allowing them to post articles and review one another’s work. A recent enhancement allows third-party developers to integrate learning apps that teachers can access directly from the Edmodo App Store without having to go through their district. Edmodo currently has more than 18 million registered users.

2U, Inc.
Founded in 2008 by Chip Paucek, Jon Katzman and a team of education veterans, 2U partners with top-tier universities to deliver academically rigorous graduate programs online. The company provides a dynamic virtual campus experience that includes live face-to-face interactive class sessions, self-paced coursework, online office hours with instructors and a familiar social networking interface for networking and collaboration between students. USC Rossier Online, which was one of 2U’s first programs, provides a Master of Arts in Teaching degree or a Master’s of Education in Advanced Instruction. Like all of 2U’s programs, USC Rossier Online uses the same curriculum and is taught by the same faculty as the university’s on-campus program.

2U has built online graduate programs for the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Washington University in St. Louis and University of North Carolina. The company has also recently expanded to provide undergraduates with the opportunity to complete an online semester at top universities, including Duke, Northwestern and Emory.

The new options for online learning provided by these and other startups give students more flexibility, allowing them to attend lectures, communicate with their instructors, collaborate with their peers, conduct research and complete assignments from any location that has an Internet connection. High school students and non-students have the opportunity to try college-level courses, and working professionals can complete degrees while still fulfilling work and personal responsibilities.
Without a doubt, digital media and the Internet are having a profound influence on the structure and availability of 21st-century education.

*Today’s Guest Blog is written by Erika Phyall. She is part of the social media and outreach team at 2U Inc., which partners with the University of Southern California. A variety of programs are offered that help individuals to earn a teaching degree, included among these programs are a Masters in Teaching degree. Outside of work Erika enjoys networking, DIY projects, and spending time with her two dogs.


photo credit: SurfTheMind via photopin cc
photo credit: ctkmcmillan via photopin cc

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