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IU eyes global audience in online learning venture

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Peter Struck, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, left, has a microphone attached by technology coordinator Jordan Boggs as they prepare to record a lecture by Struck on Nov. 16.

– Students from around the world could participate in classes at Indiana University via the Web under the university's aggressive new online education model.

The $8 million move to massive open online courses, or MOOCs, will offer educational badges to students who complete the courses and master certain skills but don't enroll in degree programs.

IU President Michael McRobbie says the new program, which replaces its School of Continuing Studies, will allow the university "to 'project' itself beyond the walls of the campuses, and equally importantly, the walls of the classroom of the 21st century."

"It recognizes that the distinction between 'traditional' and 'non-traditional' students is increasingly blurred and that it no longer makes sense to use different strategies to reach them," McRobbie said during his latest State of the University speech.

IU Online will create Web-based undergraduate and graduate degree programs and provide online options for high-enrollment undergraduate courses to reduce the time it takes students to complete degrees.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reports ( ) that IU expects to increase its online undergraduate degree and certificate programs in areas including business, technology and sciences. Every IU graduate-level professional school will develop at least one online degree or certificate by next fall.

Online learning isn't new. But the concept of the badges is drawing attention.

Moody's Investors Service in September said it expects revenue to increase within the higher-education sector as "elite" universities offer more classes for an unlimited number of students worldwide.

Nearly two dozen colleges are offering MOOCS, including Duke, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford universities.

While the badges could expand revenue for traditional colleges, they could deal a blow to online for-profit educators such as Carmel-based ITT Educational Services Inc.

Many for-profit ventures saw their growth stall amid questions about student qualifications, job placement and student loan defaults. Moody's said the entry of "elite universities" into online education could help reduce the stigma associated with distance learning.

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers said MOOCs will clearly be "at the front and center" of higher education discussions as states look for more ways to educate students.

But Lubbers said it's too early to gauge their success.

"It's hard to argue with some of the schools who are getting involved in this," she said. "But this has all happened, at this point, pretty quick. Are we interested? Absolutely."

Nearly a third of students took at least one online course in the fall of 2010, up from 10 percent in 2003, according to the Babson Survey Research Group in Babson Park, Mass.

Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal,