Pushing Back on CNBC’s Video ‘Is an Online Master’s Degree Worth the Money?’ | Learning Innovation – Inside Higher Ed

The CNBC 8 minute and 37 YouTube video Is an Online Master’s Degree Worth the Money? gets some things right. 

The video does a good job of describing the reasons why people consider getting a master’s degree. On average, workers with a master’s earn about $1,500 a week. This figure compares to college graduates, who earn an average of $1,250 a week.

Another area where CNBC does a decent job is describing why running online programs is as expensive as delivering residential programs.

I’m also happy that the video makes some (brief) mention of the potential impact of non-traditional and non-degree online programs and credentials.

Where the video misses the mark, however, is in its attempt to answer the question that its title asks – is an online master’s degree worth the money?

To answer this question, CNBC interviews a handful of students who are now enrolled in masters programs. The reporting never clarifies if the students they interview are enrolled in “traditional” online programs or if they are residential programs that were forced to go remote.

Talk to anyone in the online learning world about academic continuity during COVID-19, and the first thing that we will say to you is that it is essential to distinguish between “online” and “remote” learning.

Well-designed online programs are built to be interactive, immersive, and engaging. There is no well-designed online degree program that I know of that includes hours each week of Zoom meetings. Instead, a quality online program contains a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous interactions and engagements.

Yes, there is wide variation in the quality of online programs. Online programs that are well-thought-out and adequately resourced are highly learner-centric. They are designed to support students with abundant coaching and support resources and are designed around the busy work/family demands of most masters students.

Some online programs are engaging and immersive, built on sound learning science research and advanced pedagogical practices. These online programs feature high levels of student engagement, with active and experiential learning stressed above all else. Other online masters programs are not nearly as interactive and learner-centric.

There might be very good examples of schools that are offering quality “remote” masters programs. Institutions with greater resources, and a history of developing their online programs in-house (rather than outsourcing instructional design to an OPM), are likely to be offering quality remote degrees.

However, COVID-19 has no doubt forced many residential masters programs to pivot to Zoom-heavy class strategies. Instead of providing students with highly designed courses that combine asynchronous and synchronous activities, too many courses nowadays (both undergraduate and graduate) try to translate the face-to-face classroom to Zoom. The results are seldom pretty (from a learning perspective) and rarely ever equitable (from a student resource/privilege perspective).

No form of higher education exacerbates inequalities as quickly as ZoomU.

While the CNBC video was short, I wish that its creators would have spent a bit more time (or any time) distinguishing between remote and online programs.

Those of us in the online learning world need to better communicate to people outside of our higher ed bubble the differences between traditional online learning and COVID-19 necessitated remote education.

Anyone watching this CNBC video, who doesn’t know much about online learning, will come away not knowing much more.

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