Western Governors University is a model of online education

The United States is famous for its Laboratories of Democracy.  Luckily, education seems to be following this route, led by initiatives at private and public universities throughout the country.  As advances in technology have opened up new ways to reform and improve the US educational model, new techniques are necessary to integrate technology into schools.  One example that might point the way is Western Governors University.

Through online tutorial websites and iPads for the classroom, technology is popping up everywhere and challenging how we think about education.  But one of the greatest challenges is to understand the best way to implement technology to help students and teachers.  Most importantly, how can technology be used to develop a program that satisfies accreditation requirements and include the speed and benefits a tailored education technology allows?

Thankfully, strong leadership at US colleges and universities is beginning to result in a range of initiatives to introduce new models.  MIT’s OpenCourseWare is perhaps the most famous.  But new efforts are underfoot.  At Udemy, we’re always looking for new ways to make education more accessible.  One model that struck us was Western Governors University (WGU).

WGU is a not-for profit online university with more than 20,000 students.  True to it’s mission, all courses are online, there is no campus.  Because the institution is based on a competency model, as opposed to credit hours, WGU is able to differentiate its approach from other education models.  WGU allows students to complete courses as fast as the student can demonstrate competency.  For instance, if a student already has a huge amount of experience in a particular area of study, they can demonstrate their competency by rapidly completing the coursework and tests; they don’t need to spend an entire semester.

In addition, WGU pairs students with a mentor that maintains contact with the student throughout the entire process focusing on the experience. This counselor assures that there is a human element built into the model.  Besides the interaction with instructors via the course, another person is watching over the students progress and serves as support.  But again, all online, thereby keeping costs down.

Some might point out that WGU’s target audience differs from many of the more famous bricks and mortar universities.  But that’s just the point; WGU provides a model to provide training and skills over the Internet to individuals that might not have access to a traditional college or university.   As a result, WGU reflects the best aspects of technology in education, making education accessible to those that might not otherwise have access.