Blog Post

What do you think?

Hi Bernard et. al.  There hasn't been much discussion in this group yet, so I thought I'd throw something out there to get a conversation going.  :)

I recently read an interesting article written by Kanyi Maqubela and published in The Atlantic entitled "Can Online Education Be Both Successful and Good for Us?"

I would love to hear your thoughts on this excerpt from the full text (linked above).  I wonder, what is the way forward?  Thanks in advance for entertaining my question!

"The demand for higher education has skyrocketed, and our system has proven insufficient to meet that demand productively -- hundreds of thousands of young people have heard the news that a Bachelor's degree is the ticket, and well-marketed capitalism has taken advantage of it, to our collective peril. Meanwhile, online education has exploded in recent years, and with a broadband connection and a few hours a day, one can learn highly marketable skills in technology, design, and entrepreneurship. So what to do?

My point of view about health care applies to education, as well: the ambitious and accelerated elite face a set of challenges largely incomparable to the marginalized, underemployed, and chronically unemployed. Detractors of new education wisely point out that current approaches may only reach the recreational fringe of education, or the highly connected and motivated self-starters, most of whom are not the high-risk target audience for which online education is a serious and necessary option. That credential, which current new education platforms lack, is the very reason many enroll at University of Phoenix rather than pursuing other means of vocational enrichment.

A successful educator will prepare his students not only for the employment market that follows, but develop in them the techniques such that they can build character and be self-sufficient in a dynamic economy. Accreditation and appropriate credentials demonstrate that the student has successfully met those qualifications. Before the renaissance in online education becomes a reality at scale, there must be a system of legitimizing new online education programs, of holding them publicly accountable, and of measuring the outcomes as they prepare students for employment."


1 comment

Thanks for getting the discussion started, Lauren.  I know that you posted quite some time ago, but in case you or others are still following along, I thought I would share a reply.  I would like to focus upon two aspects of the article.  The first relates to the vision of creating increased access and opportunity to higher education.  The second relates to the closing remarks in the portion about accountability in online learning.

Some have identified online learning as a potential disruptive innovation.  According to Christiansen, one attribute of a disruptive innovation is that it enters an existing industry and establishes itself by serving a population that was previously ignored, overlooked, or even disregarded by the existing organizations in that industry.   In the case of online learning, what is that population that was initially drawn to it over a face-to-face option?  With that in mind, I ask this question.  If this were not an underserved population in some regard, would online learning have taken root so firmly?  If there were not high demand for online learning, then I see no reason why it would have grown so quickly.  So, it is likely that online learning is not increasing access and opportunity to all demographics of underserved individuals, but it is clearly providing a valued service to certain demographics.  Here are some of those individuals:

a) Individuals whose jobs require frequent travel or schedules that make traditional or evening programs unreasonable,

b) single working parents,

c) people who desire to study in a field that is not represented in nearby institutions,

d) people who want the benefits of a college degree without the college social life component,

e) people whose temporary or permanent physical condition makes frequent trips to and from classes difficult or prohibitive.

If we were to interview online learners, we would get a wide variety of reasons why they deemed it the best option for them given their current circumstances.  I am not sure, however, that avoiding academic quality would be high on that list.  After all, if one is studying to be an occupational therapist, it is not as if she aspires to be an incompetent one.  Especially in professional programs like that, students will be held accountable eventually on the job, regardless of the mode of instruction that they received at University.  To the best of my knowledge, I have not seen a study to indicate that students choose online learning because they perceive it to be academically easier than the face-to-face counterpart.  I have, on the other hand, seen studied that indicate students spending more time in order to complete an online course successfully.

I contend that these reasons for choosing online learning are valuable reasons, and that online learning offers an un-cloistered option for higher education (if we think of the traditional format as a monastic model, requiring that one set aside much of their previous life in order to fully participate).  Current forms of online learning (I say forms because there as many different types of online learning as their are face-to-face learning environments) do meet the needs of learners who would otherwise not be served.  I've yet to see a study to indicate otherwise.  In fact, one of the first online learning programs that I studied back in the 1990s was an online high school created to increase the retention of at-risk students.  Online learning is not the solution for all underserved populations, but it is increasing access and opportunity to higher education.

2) In terms of the closing remarks about accountability, I agree with the value of accountability in all forms of higher education.  In fact, I contend that traditional face-to-face higher education programs would benefit from the measure of scrutiny, critique, and accountability that is occurring more and more for online learning.  In many ways, the actual classroom experience in online learning can be more carefully scrutinized than almost any face-to-face course because virtually every action of student and learner in an online course is recorded and available for analysis.  In terms of accountability for student performance at the end of programs and in the workplace, those standards already exist in one form, at least for higher education institutions that are accredited.  Online learning programs are part of that process, and most any standards (plus several others) required of the face-to-face programs apply also to the online ones.  I work in private higher education, where tuition dollars are the primary source of funding for the University, so that definitely adds another level of accountability coming from students and their families.  Of course, that brings with it some other challenges as well.

I know that there are many loose ends in this reply, but I thought I would offer it, even in draft form, as a source of some additional conversation.