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Discover Emerging Trends in Online Higher Education


May. 4, 2015 US News and World Report

As online education enrollment growth slows, programs are exploring new formats to appeal to students.

The definition of online higher education is becoming increasingly broad as new models incorporate more real-time instruction, turn course work into competition or rethink how student learning is assessed, experts say.

“The range and extent of those offerings continues to increase at a pretty fair clip,” says Malcolm Brown, director of the learning initiative at Educause, an educational technology advocacy group.

Below is a look at three emerging trends in online instruction through the lens of institutions that are among the leaders in their implementation: synchronous instruction, gamification and project-based learning.

Synchronous instruction: In the online master’s in social work program at the University of Southern California, students in their first semester participate in a virtual field practicum.

Instead of being placed in a partner agency to do traditional field placement work with live clients, students spend four hours a week using videoconferencing​ and other interactive tools​ to receive synchronous – or real-time – instruction.

An hour of that weekly time is spent in a mock counseling session with an actor hired to portray a realistic client – similar to one​ students might encounter in an actual field placement. Students alternate leading the video session,​ and then use a second hour to discuss which strategies for engaging that client proved most effective.

The model gives students from diverse ​backgrounds much-needed preparation for interacting with a variety​ of clients. By delaying their face-to-face field experience into a following term, it also allows students in rural communities more time to find a suitable field placement following their enrollment, says Elizabeth Phillips, who oversees students’ clinical work as an associate professor.

“Before, we were just putting people brand new behind closed doors and saying, ‘We trust you,'” Phillips says. “Now we’re saying, ‘We think we’d like to teach you a little bit more.'”

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