Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education

Motivation and Overview

A recent explosion of public and academic interest in online education has accompanied high-profile offerings of massively open online courses (MOOCs) by some of the country’s leading education and research institutions, as well as by non-profits, companies and other content providers. This surge has particularly focused on undergraduate education, but this activity is occurring in the context of a long- standing online education landscape to research and practice for K-12 education, lifelong learning, and higher education. New ingredients, such as large scale (or massive), add significantly to the transformational possibilities of online education for accessibility, quality, and cost of education, as well as definitional changes to its boundaries, form, and content. The highly visible large-scale efforts of today, in fact, may be what drives education into an oft-touted, idealized, hiding-in-plain-sight ubiquity at small granularity, erasing boundaries between formal and informal education.

online education

There are many research areas implicated by earlier, new, and future forms of online education. There are new slants on existing pedagogical questions of (a) curriculum design, to include distribution of curricula across institutions, across faculty and students, and across other content providers and consumers; (b) interaction design for online, face-to-face, and hybrid in-class and out-of-class experiences, including interactions facilitated by “flipped” classrooms and interactive forms yet to be imagined and developed; (c) personalized and otherwise customized learning; and (d) evaluations of student outcomes, with new forms of assessing traditional content knowledge and lifelong learning outcomes, all interwoven with issues of evaluation integrity, consistency, diversity, and scale up.

There are larger issues of social, behavioral, and economic sciences involving (a) synchronous and asynchronous interaction within and between local and global learning communities and the ways that these communities might evolve into other forms of collaboration and competition; (b) the repurposing of public and private spaces—such as libraries, healthcare facilities, and schools—to enable and promote flourishing local and global learning communities; and (c) the science of broadening participation, evaluating whether the ideals of large-scale online education are being realized or if wholly unanticipated disparities in access to education unfold. While local, face-to-face learning communities typically accompany MOOCs, online education instruments are, as yet, not designed with the variety of possible local formats in mind. All of these learning and community issues are likely conditioned on geographic, demographic, and other cultural factors that are as yet unconsidered.

In addition, ideal online and hybrid formats will likely vary with domain content from across the sciences, humanities, arts, and engineering disciplines. Thus, there are implications of online education for all academic disciplines.