Sunday, March 02, 2008

Online Education, What is best case?

Making an excellent education accessible for everyone is a noble goal. One problem with migrating all content to online is that 1.) Not all learning styles can be met online. 2.) It is critical that the learner be self-motivated in online classes. How can we expect students, especially those from K-12 who are used to being spoon-fed to function well in this environment? 3.) Fear of new and existing technologies can cause "technophobia" and avoidance of their use. Most of my peers care deeply about their discipline, but I find that many don't have the time or confidence to learn new technologies on their own. 4.) Some faculty do better at teaching and others research. I have held the opinion for some time that while a faculty member should always remain informed as to their discipline, some should be allowed to focus on teaching and others on research. 5.) The bottom line for universities has always been money. Money is needed to operate the physical plant, pay employees, and provide services. Student tuition, government funding, and donations are critical to keep the machine running. Even online institutions are moneymakers. They have seen the writing on the wall and understand the profitability of migrating to the online venue. Just take a look at most brick and mortar institutions and you will find a huge push to take courses online. With shrinking enrollment rates and funding cuts offering online classes is very cost-effective.

Concerning a distributed learning system. Who will be setting the standards? Employers right or wrong look to some sort of certification/accreditation of potential employees in order to help them choose the best. Their are better ways of determining whether a one person is better than another for a position, but I'll leave that for another post.

For me the big issue with online classes/education is that of creating an environment which is pedagogically/andragogically sound, uses new media and technologies appropriately, has an intuitive user interface, is engaging, and meets students varied learning needs. Current Learning Management Systems (LMS) are evolving and while I find none to be a best-case tool for synchronous/asynchronous learning, I do see newer technologies such as wiki's, blogs, chat, etc. being adopted. The futurist in me hopes that someone will finally get it right by offering either an all inclusive platform, or tool that allows multiple components from other sources to be merged into one customizable interface.

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