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The State of Education Video 2015
From flipped classrooms to MOOCs, video is at the very center of education in 2015. But are colleges and students getting their money's worth?

It’s fair to say that the hype around MOOCs has cooled since they debuted in 2011. While millions of students are enrolling in MOOCs, a study from the Penn State Graduate School of Education indicates that user engagement drops off dramatically after the first 2 weeks, and course completion averages 4 percent across courses. The study, which analyzed 1 million students in 16 courses offered by the Coursera MOOC platform, also found that only about half of students viewed at least one lecture video in their selected course.

2014 also saw a high-profile pivot from MOOC provider Udacity, headed by CEO Sebastian Thrun, one of the founders of the MOOC movement. The company shifted from free college-level courses to a vocational emphasis.

Udacity now focuses on teaching programming and technology skills to students who pay a monthly fee. In exchange, students are eligible to earn “nanodegrees” in subjects ranging from iOS software development to data analysis. In order to provide some return on students’ investment, these programs are designed and recognized by companies such as AT&T, Google, and Autodesk.

This shift comes with benefits. In September Udacity raised $35 million in venture capital to fund this new direction.

As the third largest provider of MOOCs, Udacity’s departure ended up having little impact on the broader category. In fact, according to the MOOC tracking site Class-Central.com, by the end of 2014 more than 400 universities—including 22 of the 24 top schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report—were together offering 2,400 courses, up 900 courses from the beginning of the year.

It was probably inevitable that the breathless predictions that MOOCs would revolutionize access to education would turn out to be premature and overoptimistic. Yet even if only 4 percent of students finish a course, when we’re looking at some 15 million enrollments in 2014, that still adds up to 600,000 completed for free. With the continued increase in course offerings and investment that completion number will only go up.

The energy behind MOOCs at the universities that offer them has catalyzed the growth of video production on campuses. For instance, The Boston Globe reported that Harvard University has built two studios with more than 30 employees to support a growing slate of free classes offered through its EdX MOOC partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 35 other universities.

At the University of Illinois, Moran says the creation of MOOCs “stimulated more investment in video.” One of the criteria for selecting courses that will be turned into MOOCs is how the materials developed in the process can be used in on-campus instruction.

“A nice thing about the microlecture format,” he adds, “is that you can share them out as needed on a topic-by-topic basis,” to multiple classes. That facilitates even more use of MOOC content.

Customizing the Approach

When designing a course, Anderson says, “you make assumptions about [video content] you think is authentic to the real world or relevant to the end user, but then there’s this question: Are they really using it and is it valuable to them?”

That’s why her company is doing research to look at how students use and value video in a wide variety of different environments and subjects, from corporate training in an industry, such as trucking, to a higher-education field, such as nursing. “What we’re finding is that it’s different for different learners and different disciplines,” Anderson says. So it is important to understand the learner’s social and cultural environment, which for training includes the working environment.

Gina Anderson’s company Mopi16 helps educational video users understand the types of videos that are going to be most effective for different students in different disciplines. 

For instance, in a trucking safety course it’s important for the video to be mobile, because working truckers are on their smartphones.

On the other hand, nurses can’t necessarily have a mobile device with them while performing a procedure on a patient. Although a video is valuable for demonstrating proper technique, a nurse might only be able to watch at a fixed workstation outside the exam room. So he or she might also need printed materials to accompany the video.

“We really need to determine how it’s impacting their learning and how we can use it to design meaningful learning experiences.” Whether it’s an enterprise company or a university, “They really want to provide the optimal experiences for their employees and their students.”

In K-12 or higher education, collecting student performance data for analysis can require jumping through many hoops because of privacy regulations and human subjects policies, as well as difficulties that come with getting the faculty to cooperate. However, Weiss says soliciting student perception and evaluation of their course video is useful: “It can be very helpful to administrators because it measures engagement.”

Security Is a Challenge

Weiss says interest in student-created video has only intensified now that students can use devices they already own to create it. However, that poses a security challenge for managing video that often should not be easily shared or accessed off-campus.

This is particularly relevant for health sciences and professions where students could benefit from recording themselves in a clinical environment interacting with clients or patients. Laws concerning patient privacy dictate how that content must be managed.

Moran points out that delivering secure video requires security that isn’t necessarily available with HTTP and HLS streaming. As Flash video is phased out in favor of using HTML5 in the browser, educators are still faced with the need to keep certain kinds of videos from being easily copied or shared. This is true for content that contains proprietary information, for protected intellectual property, and content that is covered by regulations.

Any way you look at it, video is at the center of innovation in instruction, from corporate training to the middle school classroom. Just as is the case with other verticals, educational video will benefit from enhanced measurement, attention to users, strategies that fuel engagement, and reliable security. These are challenges both for educators and for the vendors that serve them. But these are also opportunities, ones that result in real improvements in students’ lives.

[This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as The State of Education Video.]

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