Summary:

On the heels of faculty backlashes to massive open online courses, three universities have pulled out of an online learning program with education company 2U.

online learning
photo: mtkang

Over the past couple of months, massive open online course (MOOC) providers have been the focus of dissension on some college campuses. But now online learning company 2U is getting some pushback of its own.

Last fall, the company, which has partnered with several leading universities for online masters degree programs that feature small classes and live instruction, announced a new for-credit online program for undergraduates called Semester Online. But three of the 10 schools that had originally committed to the program have since backed out.

Last month, Duke revealed that it was withdrawing from the program after a faculty vote against the program. And, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt and University of Rochester have also pulled out as of Friday, with Wake Forest sitting on the fence.

“Each school has their own process for evaluating these opportunities,” 2U’s SVP of communications Chance Patterson told GigaOM, adding that the company is moving ahead with its plans to launch the program this fall with the remaining schools, including Northwestern, Emory and Brandeis. 2U also said that Boston College has since joined the consortium and that it’s in talks with 20 other schools.

At Duke, faculty concerns over the lack of administrator transparency related to the 2U deal, as well as unease with awarding school credit to students not admitted to the college, apparently led to the withdrawal.

Other issues led Vanderbilt and University of Rochester to back away from the 2U consortium. While several schools work with different online learning companies, University of Rochester reportedly chose Coursera over 2U because of the MOOC provider’s ability to reach a larger audience. Vanderbilt raised the issue of cost; while efforts like the MOOCs try to provide educational experiences at a lower price, 2U’s program costs the same as an on-campus for-credit program. Vanderbilt, as well as Duke, still maintain partnerships with Coursera for non-credit-granting courses.

The decisions to back away from 2U come after faculty resistance to online learning programs at other institutions. Earlier this month, San Jose State University professors refused to teach an edX course on justice developed by a Harvard University professor, arguing that MOOCs come at “great peril” to the country’s university system.  And in April, faculty at Amherst College voted to reject a partnership with edX, citing similar concerns about the effects of MOOCs on U.S. universities.

2U’s model, which focuses on small class sizes, live instruction and real teacher-student interaction, exists in stark contrast to the mega-sized virtual classrooms created by the MOOC providers. But it’s still bringing a new and different instructional approach to slow-moving academia. Even though one could argue that 2U’s flavor of online education isn’t as disruptive as MOOCs — like traditional college courses, it promotes teacher-student relationships, live classes and paid courses — it’s still causing some faculty to wonder about its long-term impact on their institutions and employment prospects. For example, the New York Times reported that some Duke professors were concerned that it might eventually cause the university to offer fewer courses and hire fewer professors.

Ultimately, these on-campus debates emphasize that transitioning to online learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Faculty and administrators raising concerns aren’t rejecting online learning wholesale, they’re trying to determine the approaches that work best for their students, missions and economic needs. As MOOC providers and other online learning companies make bigger headway, we’ll inevitably see more of these tussles — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Comments have been disabled for this post