Online Education Stuff We're Excited about in 2018

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I always get excited about New Year’s Eve. Something about plastic hats and foil noisemakers makes me feel like I’m crashing a party at the Great Gatsby’s house. But it’s more than the big night, or the long day of recovery and bowl games that follow. It’s about the opportunity ahead, the big, bright ball of hope that greets you with every new year. A fresh calendar to make of it what you will.

One of the surest signs that we’ve arrived at the end of the year — y’know, besides the actual date — is the preponderance of lists and listicles that populate the universe at this time. Invariably, Rolling Stone will publish a list of the year’s best albums, which will then be roundly lambasted by angry readers. Inevitably, our news feeds will list the notable figures we’ve lost this year (with no small amount of bitterness that we live in a universe where Charles Manson gets to outlive Tom Petty by seventeen years). Thrillist even features a list of the best memes from 2017 (full disclosure: I don’t get at least half of these).

So yeah, it would be in dereliction of our duty as citizens of the web were we to neglect this opportunity to also make a list. But man, the year’s already over and we’re not about looking backwards (putting aside the fact that we’re huge history nerds). In the interests of moving ever-forward, we offer a beginning-of-the-year list as an antidote to all those terminal end-of-year reflections.

Online education is always a moving target, one driven by innovation, ingenuity, and intuition. Alliterations aside, we’ll use our powers of prognostication (and informed Googling) to pin down the most exciting trends in online education in the coming year. Here, we’ll highlight the things we think will improve, advance, and enhance online education in 2018.

Instead of remembering stuff that already happened, here’s what you can actually use in the new year.

1.Student Response Systems

We hear a lot about individualized learning, a concept that seems well-intended enough but which doesn’t take into account that most educators are already spread pretty thin trying to manage curriculum, testing requirements, and general classroom responsibilities. Student response systems — Socrative and Verso are two of the leading applications on the market — use smart device technology to administer fun and effective diagnostic activities. These activities can produce quick and readily interpreted indications of individual student strengths, areas of need, and strategies for achieving improvement. The student response system is also a path to erasing the boundaries between classroom activities and homework by facilitating activities, quizzes, and classroom discussions in real time, both in and out of the classroom. This could make 2018 the year of individualized online learning.

2. Gamification

As far back as you can probably remember, your educational motivation has been couched in grading. But what if there was a more motivational — and more creative — way of inspiring you? That’s the premise behind gamification, a concept which emerged in the Aughts and has increasingly gained ground in scholarly circles. Gamification is the practice of creating competitive scoring systems around activities that are not inherently competitive. Evidence suggests this strategy can have an enormous motivational effect on participants, a fact particularly compelling to online educators. According to, “Extensive studies show that games are very effective in increasing levels of interaction and motivation in learning, which in turn help to shape knowledge and optimize the learning process. In fact, according to these studies, eighty-nine percent would be more engaged in an e-learning application if it had point-system.” Educators are beginning to act on this evidence, finding new ways to motivate online learners by creating fun, competitive activities that encourage positive learning behaviors. We expect that the new year will bring several exciting innovations in educational gamification. Ready player one!

3. Widening of the Credential Pool

Believe it or not, your job prospects as an online student might be getting better in the coming year, a definite reason to be excited. Forbes points out that employers are increasingly recognizing the value of self-directed learning. The continued proliferation of alternative online education opportunities has altered the job landscape as employers look for viable employees outside of traditional models of credentialing. We wouldn’t go out and enroll in an unaccredited educational program just yet, but we do think 2018 will be a year marked by more accepting and inclusive ways of evaluating degrees, certifications, and other professional credentials earned through online outlets.

4. Artificial Intelligence

We are equal parts excited and terrified by what progress holds in this area. We’re terrified because artificial intelligence (AI) and its resulting enhancement of robotic automation threatens to replace innumerable human labor roles. We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention our growing paranoia over the likely apocalyptic confrontation between human beings and bloodthirsty machines. On the other hand, we’re excited about what this could mean for education, and for skill-development as we prepare for the jobs of the twenty-first century. We are hopeful that 2018 could begin a marked shift in the way universities prepare students for competition in the job market with increased focus on the knowledge, skills, and training needed to harness AI (as opposed to being replaced by it).

5. Anti-Bullying EdTech

Perhaps it’s the skinny, glasses-wearing nerd in me — you never really grow out of it — but I think this is a fantastic development. The last several years have been marked by the technological evolution of bullying — which is not a great thing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have forever altered and expanded the context in which your school’s social order prevails over your life. Thanks to technology, bullying can now transcend the hallways and cafeteria at your school and spill over into your private life. But this year marks a new phase in which the same technologies will be used to stifle this kind of behavior. NetSupport DNA, for instance, provides schools, teachers, and students with an IT-based tool aimed at identifying bullying behavior, reporting it to the proper authorities, and providing students with access to outside support, particularly in instances where schools are failing to take the proper corrective steps. While we’ve come increasingly to cast a glaring and negative spotlight on bullying, 2018 may be the year in which technologists finally begin to really push back.

6. Targeting Fake News

When all is said and done, 2017 might go down as a year defined by “Fake News.” From a sitting president largely empowered by his own embrace of provably false conspiracy theories to the unfettered proliferation of fabricated news stories by Russian bots during last year’s election, the “information” careening through cyberspace has become increasingly difficult to vet for truth, accuracy, or bias. This challenge is only magnified by the reality that so many web users lack the basic fact-checking acumen to reject stories that do qualify as “fake news” or to learn from stories that are actually true. Well, the very same outlets that have unwittingly facilitated the viral spread of intentional disinformation are now collaborating on the nonpartisan Trust Project, which would use “trust indicators” to measure and display the transparency, accuracy, and credibility of news outlets and their journalistic output. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter now actively participate in what we hope will be the beginning of a new stage in the spread of online information, one that will make it far more feasible for online students to discern fact from fiction. If 2017 was the Year of Fake News, may 2018 be the Year of the Fact-Checker.

7. Online High School

By now, the concept of online education is hardly new or novel. Nearly six million students took at least one online college course in 2017. Not so for high schoolers, who must still endure the trudge to the school bus, the piercing sound of the morning bell, and that weird smell emanating from the biology dissection lab. But things may be changing, at least for those with the academic wherewithal to succeed. Online high school is still very much a novel concept. Even as students in charter schools take on blended learning strategies that combine classroom and online learning, there is nothing at this level that quite compares to the freedom of being an online college student. But that is beginning to change. In 2014, after eight years in operation, the Stanford Online High School (administrated by the college of the same name) became the first online school to receive provisional membership in the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS). In 2015, it graduated its largest class of seniors yet with forty-nine students, all of them working at or beyond Advanced Placement academic levels.

This isn’t exactly a revolution, but it is a working prototype for an alternative to traditional high school education, one that feeds particularly into the needs and ambitions of high-performing students. If you’re good at self-directed learning, and you feel like traditional high school is a drag, 2018 could be a great year for you. We expect the profile and accessibility of online high school opportunities to grow over the course of this year. If you do seize the opportunity, consider us jealous. After all, we had to go to high school the old-fashioned way.

8. Online Only State Schools

California is — as per usual — at the forefront of a new development in the online ed sphere. According to Insider Higher Ed, more than two million Californians have attended college but haven’t earned a degree. The Board of Governors is currently working on a plan that would specifically serve this population with an online-only state college system. This would not compete with California’s already massive state university system but would instead serve as an alternative for those adult students who can only advance their education through online avenues. Called Project FLOW (Flex Learning Options for Workers), it would be geared entirely toward individuals who are working and who have earned some college credits without earning a degree. Because its focus is on employability, it would also provide myriad skills-training and certification programs. Driven largely by the fact that so many Californians are underemployed and lacking in opportunities for economic mobility, it would be the first of its kind, a state-sponsored public education opportunity that is entirely online. In addition to further extending the legitimacy of online education as an effective substitute for traditional education, this could be a model for future statewide efforts. We are excited to watch as California’s experiment unfolds in 2018.

9. Hybrid Colleges

For too many years, online education has been uniquely vulnerable to exploitation. High-risk and low-income students on the hunt for meaningful and accessible educational opportunities are often instead suckered into enrolling in shady, disreputable, for-profit colleges. Hybrid college programs remedy this challenge by targeting these same demographics with supportive, affordable, and credible online educational programs. New models — like Da Vinci Extension, Match Beyond and PelotonU — employ a hybrid approach that combines three principles: intensive student support, competency-based learning, and sustainable funding. The result is a new kind of online educational experience that addresses (rather than exploits) the challenges unique to students facing either academic or economic hardship. Many of these programs are driven through partnerships with College for America, a low-cost, competency-based, online degree program sponsored by Southern New Hampshire University.

Ultimately, this approach recognizes the widespread failures of our postsecondary educational system — especially online — and confronts them with a responsive, accessible, and novel approach. We think 2018 could mark the beginning of a more responsible and less exploitative online education sector.

These are the developments we’re most looking forward to in the New Year. Each offers the prospect of moving online education into exciting new directions. As the year unfolds, we’ll do our best to keep you posted on these developments.

In the meantime, if there’s anything we missed, anything you’re excited about, or anything so fantastical and wonderful that we can’t possibly imagine it without your help, let us know. Tell us about the online education developments that you’re most excited about this year.

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