While the MOOC (massive open online course) model may work well for free undergraduate courses, online degree solutions company 2U Inc. thinks master’s degree programs require a different model.

The firm has created a cloud platform for delivering online master’s content in a highly customizable framework that can target master’s students beyond the traditional reach of universities. 2U emphasizes quality classes for select graduate and for-credit undergraduate programs.

“While Mooc’s are all the rage, it’s clear from where I sit that all online learning is not equal,” said Chip Paucek, co-founder and chief executive of 2U, during a recent Financial Times online education panel. 2U provides live, in-person education with the same faculty students would see on campus. By design, it is equal to the on-campus program. For masters’ degrees, that means smaller classes and extra work that requires students to get real-world experience outside of class.

Retention in the online program is 98 percent, Paucek said during the panel, adding, “[That’s] unheard of for anything online.”

Founded by John Katzman and a team of educators in 2008, 2U began with the idea that graduate programs benefit most from small classroom sizes and constant, specialized feedback. To meet this demand, the company focused on top-notch technology through Adobe Connect, which offers a more authentic classroom experience than simple lecture videos or online assignments; instructional design that creates hybrid classrooms with a heavy focus on real-world activities; an infrastructure that provides constant student support services, even after students have graduated; and resources that include a hefty upfront investment of $10 million in each of its partner institutions.

By now, several schools have partnered with the company to form their own online degree programs at the graduate level, including such institutions as University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

The company expects future growth to remain strong as more universities seek higher-quality online classrooms. In the panel discussion, Paucek believes the next decade will see a major shift in how these courses are offered, and it would be wise for universities to gamble big on quality.

“Those that don’t dip their toe in the water, but rather go all in, will benefit greatly,” he said during the panel.

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