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Trending Now: Postsecondary

Recent research on next gen learning explores MOOC effectiveness and what it takes to create a new model for postsecondary education.

Editor’s Note: In this monthly series, NGLC staff share their reflections on recent news and reports in the field of next generation learning at the postsecondary level. This month’s edition looks at research on next generation learning from MOOCs to breakthrough institutions


One type of news that definitely gets our attention here at Next Generation Learning Challenges is news about research on next generation learning. Our mission is about dramatically transforming education, and so we see a lot of innovation that is itself dramatic. Because innovations can take off so quickly, and because available technologies are constantly changing, it’s hard for research to keep up. And while the best-designed innovations are grounded in learning science, education research, and best practices, we still need to know if these innovative approaches to education actually improve student learning and achievement.

We’ve taken notice of reporting on MOOC-related research in particular. This month, an article by Tom Simonite in MIT Technology Review evaluated two ways that MOOC providers are trying to understand how participants learn: 1) by analyzing the vast amounts of user data they generate; and 2) by running micro-experiments with different features of their courses. The article cites findings of, for example, the effectiveness of Coursera’s peer grading model, the large subset of students in Coursera and Udacity courses that tends to skip or fast-forward through videos, and the technical challenges related to basic computer literacy that are behind a good portion of dropouts in Udacity.

In a similar vein, a post by Steve Kolowich on the Wired Campus blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed to new research in the journal Research & Practice in Assessment that examined factors contributing to student success in the first edX MOOC, Circuits & Electronics. The study found that students who worked on course material with another person (whether peer or tutor) offline did better in the course. This summer issue of the journal is a special issue on MOOCs and technology. Also through Wired Campus, in a post by Sara Grossman, we read about the MOOC Research Initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is seeking grant applications (until July 7) to study student experiences in MOOCs and the overall impact of MOOCs on the system of higher education.

The name of a report from the New America Foundation, The Next Generation University, at once caught our eye. This report describes findings from case studies of six public research universities that are expanding enrollments, conducting high-quality research, and improving graduation rates even as state funding is declining. These efforts resonate with NGLC’s goal to improve outcomes for more students at equal or lower costs. Based on the case study findings, the report offers nine recommendations at the institutional, state, and national level to further advance the approaches taken by these “next generation universities.”

A case study of the design and strategic planning behind the launch of New Community College at CUNY also struck us as relevant for those interested in new models for higher education. After reviewing the planning process and describing NCC’s college model, the report offers considerations for others who are planning postsecondary innovations; these considerations are organized around the issues of outreach and accreditation, infrastructure alignment, designing the model, and planning innovation. The engagement of the entire community within the CUNY system and the city itself is one of the most striking elements woven throughout the planning process. This case study dives into model design in greater depth than the profiles we produced for breakthrough degree program models funded by NGLC, but we intend to continue to capture the planning and launch experiences of these ten innovative institutions in an effort to continue to tease out essential considerations for future innovations.

If you know of other studies of next generation learning that we should pay attention to, please share them with us. Staying up to date on the latest developments in this fast-evolving area of research is critical both for NGLC and for the field.