The Potentials of Online Learning: Part I

Mon, 21 Oct, 2013    costonline educationresourcingretention

I have read a number of Higher Education items lately that lay out the potential of online learning, both positives and negatives.  One particular article that I read came from the September/October issue of EDUCAUSE Review.  The article is entitled, “The Potential for Online Learning: Promises and Pitfalls,” by William G. Bowen.  I’d like to lay out some of the things I found that were of interest to me, but I believe could be of interest to online faculty members and the University as a whole.

Bowen begins with a few reminders: Online learning has been around for a while now, and it is still in it’s early days; thus, there are things that may still need to be answered about online learning in the coming days.  However, here at Campbell University Online, our faculty/designers take the time needed to produce an online course with the same integrity as those taught on our main campus and our students reap a plethora of benefits from online learning.  

Another reminder to begin this conversation is that context matters.  When beginning to examine online learning, you must first take into account the fiscal and political realities of our current state, both domestically and internationally.  Educational technology continues to rapidly grow, however, the funding for online higher education is not always great.  Therefore, we cannot expect to have all the answers about online learning at this point. 

Exploring more avenues for online learning to cut cost may be a solution. As mentioned in previous blog posts, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are becoming increasingly popular in the higher education community.  Many of these are offered at no cost; however, the fear is that by not generating any funds, the MOOCs may not be able to afford necessary upgrades, maintenance, or quality instructors.  Alternatively many administrators in higher education are focusing on online learning and considering the costs of taking traditional programs to the online environment; however, there are differences in the institutions' approach.  Some institutions seem to think they don’t have a big need for online learning programs.  These institutions can often afford to launch online programs but do not see a need for them as their current educational system isn't broke.  Other institutions find that the cost of implementing the technology to launch online programs is not something they afford even when the institution is aware that embracing online learning is the way of the future.  Perhaps this is where institution administrators, instructional designers, and IT gurus need to get together to find a solution to the problem.

Bowen sums it up nicely with this statement, “The real trick is to use technology to both raise completion rates and reduce time-to-degree.  And the place to begin is by embracing the desirability of such efforts.”  I agree whole-heartedly with this notion.  Technology opens many new avenues for the old “educational system” and it will take some thinking out of the box to move forward with a product that suits and prepares the coming generations for what the world will look like.  For many, the old way of our educational system is a sacred cow, which cannot be changed.  But if institutions do not begin to grasp that the old system is not only no longer superior, but also inferior to newer models, they will be left behind by those institutions that are embracing the new model of educating their students and the potentials of online learning. 

Jason Bennett
Instructional Designer and Training Coordinator
Campbell University