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Powering the Real Revolution in Higher Education

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We've heard a lot about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) -- the breakout trend of the year -- but it's still a fringe concept feeding what Clayton Christensen calls non-consumption. The real story is how the diverse web of nearly 5,000 institutions (broadly speaking) of higher learning in the U.S. are responding to cost pressure, calls for higher completion rates and better job preparation, and student demands for relevance.

The answer is that they are adopting blended learning strategies at a remarkable rate. Less visible than MOOC-joining press releases, efforts to flip courses, blend departments, and expand online learning options are underway on most campuses. Like K-12 schools, universities have figured out that they can leverage talent with technology, extend their reach, and control their costs

The Sloan Consortium says that in 2011 nearly one-third of all students in higher education were taking at least one online course. Sloan C conferences, like the meeting last July in Milwaukee, are opportunities for faculty members to share flipped classroom and blended department strategies.

To find out how universities are powering the shift to digital learning I called Fred Singer, CEO, Echo360, a Washington DC company working with more 10 percent of U.S. institutions and serving more than one million students worldwide. Differentiating the platform from learning management systems (LMS), Singer calls Echo an "active learning platform" designed to improve and extend the core offering of a university powering flipped and interactive classroom, providing online learning options, and supporting virtual office hours and study groups.

"We're trying to find ways to get that basic level content out to students without using valuable professor and classroom time to do it," said Dr. Laura Berry, North Arkansas College about flipped classroom strategies. Echo360 give instructors like Dr. Berry the ability to monitor individual student engagement and participation.

"I've proven that students learn better in a flipped classroom compared to a traditional lecture-based classroom," said Dr. Russel Mumper, UNC.

Universities are struggling with large classes and looking for ways to economically improvement in engagement. The University of Michigan studied the interactive classroom and found their participation rates among students going up from 3 percent to over 65 percent using some of Echo's Active Learning Interactive Classroom Tools. (Echo recently acquired LectureTools from Dr. Perry.)

Echo360 has even stronger penetration in Australia and the U.K. The University of Birmingham has seen improved test scores and completion rates with 84 percent of students reporting that the ability to study online and in class improved their understanding.

MOOCs are an interesting development because the are free and a number of leading institutions have jumped on board, that that doesn't improve delivery of existing courses. Because most MOOC courses don't offer credit, that doesn't help students that want or need credit toward a degree.

The core product of the university is the tuition-paying on-campus student. Platforms like Echo360 give faculty members and administrators a new set of possibilities for extending their reach, improving outcomes, and controlling costs. That's a trend that the 100 million students attending universities worldwide could benefit from by the end of the decade.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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