Online Education: Greater Choice, FlexibilityMay 2, 2012
Two recent articles focusing on online education jumped out at me due to their strikingly contrasting messages.
The first, written by a student for the Crimson White at the University of Alabama, is a straight-ahead attack on the efficacy of online programs, stating that “educational technology is adopted at the expense of education’s human element.” More an editorial than a news story, the piece goes on to say that “electronic learning” fails to inspire students:
“As the University moves more introductory classes to an online format and outsources our education to companies like Pearson Education, fewer students are being inspired. Once it has been completely uploaded to the web, college will become a heartless, valueless exchange of data analogous to a file transfer. Knowledge gained this way is dry, shallow, lacks force and is a poor excuse for an education.”
With all due respect to the writer, I’d like to suggest that evidence points to a very different conclusion. For example, according to Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, a 2011 survey from the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, over 6 million students are currently taking at least one class online, thirty-one percent of higher education students now take at least one course online, and 65% of higher education institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.
Rather than remove the human element, online programs actually help educators and students to interact in more personalized ways, creating engaging, productive learning experiences. In an earlier post, I pointed to efforts taking place throughout the country to move away from the traditional model of a professor talking “at” students, towards a more collaborative, participatory process. Which brings me to the second article I mentioned.
EducationNews’s Recent online Offerings Expand Higher Education Options reports that several new online programs, including the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School’s MBA@UNC, are “a strong indicator that students now see online-only education as more legitimate [and] academically rigorous.” The article cites a survey conducted by Zogby in 2010, when there were many fewer online only programs in existence, in which 83 percent of executives said that an online degree is equal to a “traditional” one.
The bottom line? The debate over the quality of online vs. on-the-ground programs misses the larger point. The learning experience that both provide can be excellent or lacking depending on a wide range of variables, which is why colleges and universities maintain their own standards over all of their programs. With this in mind, the innovations in online teaching with academically rich content and personalized learning are enabling schools to offer students greater choice and flexibility in pursuing their educational goals. And, most college students today will benefit from a combination of both approaches.
- Online Education: Greater Choice, Flexibility (researchnetwork.pearson.com)
- The Online Education Guide (education.com)
- Harvard and MIT Offer Online Education for Free (technologyreview.com)
- Online Education – Taking Education to Another Level (oxfordthought.com)
- Can Online Learning Reproduce the Full College Experience? (moocblogcalendar.wordpress.com)