It's been hard to ignore the publicity generated by online learning over the past year. Sites such as Coursera and Khan Academy have proved enormously popular with users from around the world. Khan Academy for instance has had over 150 million views of its online maths tutorials.
Does such popularity transfer over to the grades students receive in actual degrees though? San Jose University believes they do.
The Silicon Valley based university said this week that courses that incorporated MOOC style online content achieved pass rates of up to 91%. That's a huge jump from the 55% pass rate that courses without any online components were achieving.
San Jose University is not alone however in tying in online content to its courses. California State University said recently that it is planning to expand its relationship with MOOC provider edX. This will see a pilot electrical-engineering course expanded to over 11 campuses. This trial will run alongside a similar trial with Udacity, another MOOC, that began in January.
"Our hope is that we will be trying somewhere between three and five courses at San Jose State in different disciplines" including the humanities, business and social science, said university President Mohammad Qayoumi. "It looks far better than what we do in traditional classrooms," he added, in reference to the pass rate, though he cautioned the engineering-course results were preliminary.
The pilot scheme saw 87 engineering students selected at random to take the experimental version of an introductory circuits and electronics class that was created by edX.
These students had access to lectures and other materials online and showed up to class for discussion and group work facilitated by a professor.
The model mimics that taken by schools that use Khan Academy to help students with maths. It sees students consuming lectures via video at home, and class time is then spent discussing what was learnt with the professor.
The control this gives students over the speed of learning however has proved popular with students, with the pass rate clearly reflecting the success of this method.
This "blended" education model provides "the best of both worlds," said Anant Agarwal, the president of edX. Pass rates for an online-only noncredit version of the edX electrical engineering class that was taken by thousands of students around the world are only about 5%, but many students who enroll give up early, he said.