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Reports of the Demise of Online Programs Are Exaggerated

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April 13, 2017 by admin

Online ProgramsMark Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The same could be said for online programs despite the fact that a recent report indicates otherwise. According to Learning House, Online Learning at Private Colleges and Universities in 2016, the number of schools offering online programs has increased. Also, the report has stated that the number of school support for online programs has increased as well. At the same time, very few, if any, online programs have been discontinued. Apparently, more colleges and universities are exploring ways that online education fits with their mission, and they appear to be making a sustained commitment.

The Tipping Point Of Online Education

Within the next year or two online programs may be approaching a tipping point, as many colleges and universities will no longer have the luxury of asking if or when they should offer online classes. The only question left will be how to do it efficiently and in harmony with the individual institution’s history, mission, and culture.

Two data points and an insight lead to that conclusion. First, students are increasingly warming up to online education. According to the Learning House study, about half of the students surveyed show that they definitely would not, probably would not, or were not sure if they would attend a college or university if online classes weren’t available. And why not? The rising generation of college students is very comfortable with using technology to “consume content” and communicate with one another, two of the central activities of most educational experiences. There is research going back nearly a decade now that students prefer online delivery of some content, like lectures.

Moreover, many high school students already taken at least some classes online. Ironically, many high schools students take a college-level course online before they graduate. In any case, taking a class online is not necessarily a novel experience for many of them.

Faculty Approach To Online Programs

While students are growing increasingly receptive to the idea of online education, and in some circumstances may even demand it, faculty resistance to online education seems to be fading. In the Learning House study, while 86 percent of the respondents reported that they had experienced faculty push-back to online education, only around half indicated that it was an ongoing problem.

Just like the student population, faculty members are also becoming more accustomed to online education. In fact, more junior faculty members may have taken an online course or two as students themselves. Those cases aside, most professors are becoming increasingly comfortable with using learning management systems and other tools that make up the technological foundation for online education and are experimenting in one way or another with blended and hybrid learning. One of the authors recently had an experience in which a colleague was arguing vigorously against online education but then displayed that he loved to tape his lectures. He was one step away from offering this course in hybrid fashion. 

Future Expectations

The insight is this: Most colleges and universities give lip service to teaching their students to be life-long learners. There is no doubt that once students complete their undergraduate education, a lot of their continuing education will be online. Learning online is different than learning in a face-to-face setting and undergraduate institutions will have to face their responsibility to teach their students those skills in the not too distant future.

If the Learning House study is correct, then reports of the early demise are greatly exaggerated. Once the idea that some classes should be offered online, the challenge is making online programs as an efficient learning experience as possible.

-Elliot King and J. Connor Ames

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