Last month, I had the amazing opportunity of delivering a workshop course on Online Learning Best Practices in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil. The event, hosted by the Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED), is an annual gathering that calls for educational professionals from all over the nation of Brazil in what is esteemed to be one of the most critical events in the online and distance education arena for the nation.
The focus of my workshop was to engage a dialogue around what practitioners were facing today and then seek to facilitate sharing around their issues and experiences in order that we might bring to corporate attention those things we could observe as mistakes, successes and best practices.
To start this off, I gave a short presentation on trends in online education, featuring both U.S. and Brazil-based statistics. My original curiosity in putting the stats together was to identify some of what these two nations are seeing in their online learning & distance education landscape in order to draw an analysis of how the two landscapes might differ or cohere.
Through this presentation and our group dialogue, it became clear that both similarities and variances did exist. In such areas as student, teacher and institutional access to technology and the overall use of technology in education, for example, participants noted the U.S. is in a position of greater years of access to and practice with technology applied to educational contexts. We also dialogued about the impact of this reality on instructors, specifically in the case of wanting to find and incorporate online resources into their courses, including Web 2.0 tools and applications. Whereas we know that for an English-speaking audience, social giants such as Facebook now have 200+ apps that can be applied to education, the number of sources available for use in other languages, in this case Portuguese, can be dramatically fewer and thereby pose a greater challenge to instructors desiring to incorporate such tools in their courses and work. Though we did identify these noteworthy differences in our dialogue, at least one solid point of coherence did emerge in our continued dialogue and exploration of the statistics.
Inasmuch as it seems evident the years of practice with certain technologies in education, as well as with eLearning in general can differ greatly between the U.S. and Brazil, it became clear that both nations are in seasons where the promise for the future of online education seems to be one of increased growth. For instance:
- Brazil- “The offer of new distance courses in 2008 grew 89.9% in comparison with the previous year (ABED, 2009).”
- U.S.A.- “The economic impact has been greatest on demand for online courses, with 66 percent of institutions reporting increased demand for new courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2009).”
For sure, this growth potential appears to reflect in both enrollment of students into online course offerings and in student-demand for increased online course & program offerings. In either case, the trend appears to point to a growing demand from students for opportunities through which to engage their education through technology.
Though both of these potential growth areas are vast topics for rich discussion, the one I chose to highlight to the group was the second (the expected & potential for growth in demand for new online course offerings). Moreover, I chose to focus less on the demand itself and more on the impact or implications of this demand on the online education landscape. My question to the group then and I pose this for your consideration now as well is to reflect on: “What does this mean for online course development?”
If we are to understand that the trend-signs point to great and seemingly rising demands for new online course offerings/programs, we can conclude that those institutions who desire to engage with this growth potential will need to:
- discover their position in terms of current online offerings and
- determine the extent to which their institutional strategy calls for (and will support) the development of new online courses and programs.
Bearing current offerings and strategic positioning for the future, new development would need to begin by an active discovery of those subject areas, courses and programs that represent the rising demands of online/potential online students. With this, we can observe the potential for a rising need for new course development across disciplines and levels. And a critical scenario for institutions offering online courses/programs to consider is whether the demand is rising at speeds that could soon (or have already) outpaced current systems for development.
Obviously, this apparent demand for course development is a larger reality than this short blog can fully address and there is indeed still much we need to discover. As such, I’d like to pose the following questions to you that might help you spark or continue this discussion in your institution:
- What demand for online courses, including new courses and program offerings, is my institution facing?
- What is our strategy concerning online education and how does growth in new course and program development fit into it?
- How will any new initiatives for development affect our current system and capacity to support new online course development?
L. Rachel Cubas, M.Sc.
International Academic Trainer & Consultant
ABED. (2010). CensoEAD.br. Sao Paulo: Camara Brasileira do Livro.
Allen & Seaman. (2009). Learning on Demand. Newburyport: Sloan-C.