Online Education: The Future of Learning

When it comes to the rise of online education, the writing is on the wall…or more accurately: on the computer monitor! Yet a healthy number of people remain skeptical of the online approach. This is precisely why I’m eager for you to read this week’s Guest Blog entry by Jane Hilburt-Davis, who’s been closely following multiple studies on this subject, conducted by various accredited universities, research firms—and even the U.S. Department of Education, which did a meta-analysis on more than a thousand empirical studies about online learning, to ultimately conclude its undeniable value as a learning tool. Read on for more compelling data!

Online Education: The Future of Learning
Jane Hilburt-Davis, Practitioner Guest Blogger

It’s time to stop showing your age and abandon any preconceived notions you may have about online learning. Harvard and MIT recently announced that they would be teaming up on a $60 million project to offer free online college courses under a joint venture called “edX”. By their own admission, this is as much about research as it is about learning.

Harvard University president, Drew Faust, declared during the news conference at which she and MIT president Susan Hockfield announced the new initiative, “Through this partnership, we will not only make knowledge more available, but we will learn more about learning.” They shared the belief that this gives both schools a chance to collect data that, according to Harvard’s provost, Alan Garber, “Simply hasn’t existed”. The charge for certificates through online learning has yet to be determined.

The efficacy of online courses has long been a question for educators. We now haveevidence suggesting that the computer can be as effective as the classroom. According to a recent Boston Globe article describing the results of the first large, randomized study to support online learning, conducted by Ithaka S+R, researchers found that students fared equally well in both formats on every measure of learning. The only difference was that the “online group appeared to learn faster.”

Another study done by the U.S. Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the work online tested higher compared with the average classroom student, a modest but statistically significant difference. The study’s lead author, Barbara Means, noted that the study’s “major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.”

The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that:

  1. are more customized to individual students than is possible in the classroom
  2. provide more learning-by-doing which many students find more engaging and useful
  3. are more effective in building learning communities (a longstanding value of FFI)
  4. spare our global students the expense and time of travel

FFI GEN is in good company with some of the major universities making the shift to online learning. Most recently we have released a 100% online program of study with FFI GEN Fast Track Certificates in Family Business Advising (CFBA) and Family Wealth Advising (CFWA) which significantly expand the accessibility of FFI’s professional education programs globally. Learn more about the program at As we work at creating cutting edge multidisciplinary courses, we will continue to monitor the programs, the lessons, and student feedback carefully to produce excellent educational experiences in flexible learning environments.

About the Contributor

Jane Hilburt-Davis, is academic coordinator for FFI GEN, president of Key Resources, LLC, a family business consulting firm based in Boston, MA, and is co-author of Consulting to Family Businesses. An FFI Fellow and past president of FFI, Jane received the 2008 Richard Beckard Practice Award, is the author of many articles and case studies, and has trained and mentored family business advisors. She can be reached at [email protected].

Be sure to look for The Practitioner: Wednesday Edition in the coming weeks for a very special installment: an interview with FFI Chairman Mark Evans.

Add your voice the discussion by using the comment space*, share with others via our social sharing buttons, subscribe to the blog, or become a guest blogger or contributor.

Yours in Practice,

The Practitioner

*To post a comment as a member please sign in to your account. If you are not a member and would like to join the discussion, please Register as a Guest here.