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The State of Education Video 2016

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Online video in education is the new normal. To grasp the full impact of that declaration, it’s important to take a step back from thinking only about memories of our own classrooms.

Sure, video has come a long way in traditional teaching environments—something I won’t neglect in this review. But video takes a central role in learning in general. From figuring out how to replace a broken smartphone screen to learning how to retouch a digital photo to mastering the technique behind the perfect omelet, video rules.

By the looks of it, LinkedIn agrees. Last April the company spent $1.5 billion to acquire Lynda.com, an early—and profitable—pioneer in providing skills-based video courses online. Lynda is a go-to destination to gain proficiency in areas such as web design, as well as courses on topics as diverse as accounting fundamentals and “The Neuroscience of Learning.”

Money continues to flow into other online learning companies, too, even in smaller increments. In October, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera raised another $11.6 million in funding, bringing its total equity funding to $146.1 million. Udacity, which started in MOOCs before pivoting to paid high-tech vocational training in 2015, raised another $105 million in November, topping the $55 million the company raised since its 2012 launch. In these companies’ online courses, it must be pointed out, most instruction fundamentally relies on video.

Then there’s one truly suprising statistic: In an Onstream Media and Unisphere Research survey of more than 700 webcasting professionals released in September, 62 percent of the more than 700 respondents said educational content was the dominant type of webcasting content they had consumed in the last year. Only 40 percent reported watching equally for personal and business purposes, while 35 percent watch mostly for business.

The takeaway is simple: Video has become one of the dominant ways people learn online. This trend does not negate the value of traditional education, nor does it indicate that YouTube cooking tutorials can replace a good culinary school education. In fact, Lynda, Coursera, and Udacity share an approach to pedagogy that combines video instruction with interactive elements, such as quizzes and tests.

Though they started out not offering any credit or diplomas, both Coursera and Udacity now offer certification with the completion of some course sequences, but not for free. These certifications (Udacity calls them “nanodegrees” and Coursera, “microdegrees”) are awarded in partnership with colleges and technology firms that help design capstone projects.

Time-honored teaching techniques are being blended with online video—and a whole lot of experimentation and innovation—with an eye toward better preparing students for the workforce, and giving them something to show for it.

MOOCs Get More Massive and Attract More Scrutiny

Every educational video professional should keep an eye on MOOCs, which probably represent the single biggest growth sector within higher education. That’s due to both capital funding and snowballing enrollments. According to the MOOC-watching site Class-Central, the number of students who signed up for at least one course more than doubled in 2015 over 2014, from 17 million to 35 million. Some 4,200 courses were available from more than 550 colleges and universities in 2015, including 1,800 new courses.

Those numbers represent a significant investment on the part of schools and enrolled students. So, understandably, MOOCs themselves are a growing subject of research and inquiry. There has been growing concern that too few students actually derive any benefit from MOOCs, and those who do are likely to already be educated professionals. The latter point is seen to counter the initial hope that MOOCs would make higher education radically more accessible.

A study of early edX courses released in 2014 reported that only 4 percent of enrolled students actually completed courses. That led researchers from Coursera, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington—two of whom have taught Coursera courses—to survey 780,000 people who completed a course on the MOOC platform, in order to learn their motivation for enrolling, and what the outcomes are.

Amongst the 52 percent of respondents who said that “career building” was their primary goal, 87 percent reported a career benefit of some kind. A third of total respondents reported a tangible career benefit, such as finding a new job, getting a raise, or starting a business.

While this survey confirmed that the largest percentage of MOOC students are well-educated residents of developed countries, the results showed that the tangible career benefits accrued to students with low socioeconomic status and lower levels of education at the same (in developed countries) or higher rates (in developing countries) as those who are well-educated.

“These findings support some of the early hopes that MOOCs would provide a life-changing opportunity for those who are less advantaged and have limited access to education,” the report reads.

MOOCs also continue to be fertile ground for investigating best practices in educational video. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that students who took a course where instructional content was paired with interactive exercises that emphasize learning by doing, rather than just answering a quiz, both had better test scores and were more likely to complete the course than those who took the same course without the exercises. “The most influential impact [on learning] comes from doing activities,” the researchers wrote. “The strength of this relationship is more than six times the impact of watching video or reading pages ... and more than three times the combined impact of watching and reading.”

All three major MOOC providers made inroads toward offering actual course credit and degrees last year. In April edX and Arizona State University announced the Global Freshman Academy, which allows online learners to earn credits toward their first year in college. Then in May, Coursera announced a new iMBA program with the University of Illinois that costs $20,000—less than a third of a comparable MBA program. Finally, in December, the first cohort of students graduated from Udacity’s master’s degree in computer science program, offered in partnership with Georgia Tech.

On-Campus Video Is Booming Inside and Outside the Classroom

Lest MOOCs steal all the spotlight, a 2015 Online Learning Consortium report cast some shade, showing that enthusiasm for MOOCs is on the wane among university chief academic officers. Only 16.3 percent of respondents said they consider MOOCs—most of which are offered free of charge—to be sustainable, falling from 23.2 percent the previous year.

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