UC Berkeley Expands Its Commitment to Flexible Learning Environments

Cal continues to offer more online courses, including those for graduate students and for postgrads.


Brent Fulton, an assistant adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, said online learning through Cal also includes in-person meetings.

Pat Mazzera

As the demand and interest in online learning has grown, UC Berkeley has expanded its online classes exponentially. Through UC Berkeley Extension—Cal’s continuing education program—alone, the number of online courses has increased from 469 to 658 in the past five years, a 40 percent growth.

UC Berkeley also is involved in a new online graduate program, Master’s of Health Policy and Law, a joint degree between UC San Francisco and UC Hastings. This program is fully online, and is targeted primarily at medical students in a gap year. UC Berkeley helped design the course and market it.

Many of the newer online programs that have sprouted up at Berkeley in recent years are to attract people who are further in their careers and who value a flexible learning environment—whether it’s students who live afar or have family and mortgages to take care of. “They still get to have a great teaching and learning experience,” said Chris Van Nostrand, director of marketing for UC Berkeley Extension and The Berkeley Resources Center for Online Education.

Just four years ago, Cal launched its first online master’s degree—in public health—known as the On-Campus/Online MPH program. Korie Hickel was one of its first students, and there were just nine students in her cohort at the time. “I wanted the degree, but I wasn’t going to leave Alaska,” Hickel said. Born and raised in the country’s largest state, Hickel continued to work full time throughout the two-year program. She continues to work at the same place today, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, as a senior environmental health consultant.

Like on-campus master’s students at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Hickel had to apply to enter the competitive program. Courses are taught by regular on-campus professors, and those in the online program are considered UC Berkeley students. While she was able to complete the courses from afar, the two in-person sessions during the program allowed students and instructors to connect in person, fostering a deeper relationship. Hickel said she still keeps in touch with professors and students—mostly online.

Other new master’s degree programs include a Master’s in Circuits, added in 2013, and a Master’s of Information and Data Sciences, added in 2014, at UC Berkeley.

More and more, the designers of online programs are leaning toward a combination of online courses with in-person meetings. “A hybrid approach seems to be where things are going,” said Brent Fulton, an assistant adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and faculty director of the Health Policy and Management concentration within the On-Campus/Online MPH program.

“Our master’s students very much value the ability to meet each other—who they’ve already met online. This way, they get to meet in person to strengthen those relationships.”

The program has grown since the first year, and now has 100 alumni, along with 160 students currently enrolled in the On-Campus/Online MPH program.

UC Berkeley Extension school also offers certificate programs using a slightly different hybrid approach than the two in-person meetings in the On-Campus/Online MPH program. In some programs, students can mix and match online or classroom courses to complete their certificates.

In addition to the UC Extension and master’s degree programs—there are also a host of online course through edX, an online portal that also includes classes from Harvard, MIT, and others.

UC Berkeley’s continuing education program, UC Extension, has been offering classroom courses for more than 100 years. While there are still more classroom courses offered through
UC Extension than online courses, online courses now make up more than one-third of all courses offered, up one-quarter six years ago.

“Online courses are becoming a bigger part of our mix,” Van Nostrand said. “We’re really trying to provide a range of options. Not all students are the same.”

This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Aug. 31, 2016 at 8 a.m.

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