Gates Foundation Gives $100,000 to Fund Online Education Conference at UT Arlington

Gates Foundation Gives $100,000 to Fund Online Education Conference at UT Arlington

The popularity of online distance learning is soaring and holds the promise to revolutionize higher learning. More students than ever before are opting for online education due to its convenience, outreach, and flexibility. With the increased demand for online education, there have also been several calls for improvements and transformations to update the virtual campus, which despite much progress, is still largely based on the traditional classroom learning model of lectures and readings.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

One of the latest organizations to recognize the need for modernizing the efficiency of online education is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Recently, the Foundation offered the prominent University of Texas at Arlington a grant for $97,200 to host a specialized conference for educators around the world to discuss the newest trends and future of online learning. The University of Texas at Arlington was selected as the location for the initiative due to its reputation for being a leader in the online education sphere. American, Canadian, and Australian researchers are expected to attend the conference to share ideas and discuss the direction of massive open online courses, also referred to as MOOCs.

According to George Siemens, a famous Canadian educator and strong supporter of the massive online open course format, MOOCs have the power to completely transform the dynamics of conventional college education by creating personalized student learning environments not attainable in the traditional classroom model. Siemens states that MOOCs are more practical for the state of our present society and learning needs, as modern graduates are increasingly unlikely to find themselves in a stable path for the entirety of their career. Therefore, MOOCs are built upon the fundamentals of open registration, local cohorts, self-paced learning, real-time interaction for feedback, and affordability.

The Challenges Facing Online Education

Despite the exciting potential of online education, recent research on the success of massive open online courses has thus far has been anything but promising. Although millions of interested students signed up for a MOOC offered through collaboration between Stanford University and MIT-Harvard, more than 90 percent of the enrolled students did not finish their coursework. At the University of Texas at Arlington, the College of Nursing offers the only MOOC format course at the university - Enhancing Patient Safety through Inter-Professional Collaborative Practice - in the RN to BSN program. Results have indicated that only 72 to 84 percent of nurses enrolled in the massive open online course were actually prepared for continuing their education in other classes after completion.

Due to the lack of success demonstrated by the first generation of MOOCs, the Gates Foundation provided the grant to help researchers uncover new ideas and initiatives designed to improve the format's success. Laurel Mayo, director of the Learning Innovative Network Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, states that this conference will be a major milestone towards improving learning outcomes and designing the steps necessary to improve the massive open online course format, and advance online education as a whole.