Tuesday, October 18, 2011

eLearning Smackdown

by SteveFoerster

While there are a lot of different opinions about eLearning, one thing no one can dispute is that it's growing by leaps and bounds among American colleges and universities. Various studies have shown that the number of students going online has skyrocketed, particularly in subjects of interest to professionals. As a recent article in the Chronicle reported:

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a report on online-learning growth between 2000 and 2008, showing that the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in at least one online class went from 8 percent to 20 percent during that time. Computer-science and business classes were the most popular. This expansion has also been documented in a series of Sloan Consortium reports.

With any big change comes winners and losers, and in that scenario it's inevitable that there will be those who promote different positions. That's why it was so interesting that two conflicting views on eLearning recently appeared on the same day in InsideHigherEd, making it very easy to consider the two as a debate on the issue.

The first was from two former state governors, Jeb Bush of Florida and Jim Hunt of North Carolina, who wrote on why public universities need to embrace online education. They pointed out studies showing that online learning is at least as effective as traditional classroom-based instruction, and concluded that given the lower costs of eLearning and the improved access to education that it makes available to students, it's only the responsible thing for public institutions to do to expand their use of it.

The other view was from Johann Neem, a history professor at Western Washington University. He wrote on the limits of online education in replicating classroom culture. He concedes that for "certain students, especially working adults pursuing clearly defined vocational programs rather than a liberal arts education, online programs may allow opportunities that they would have otherwise foregone." But his main point is that "online higher education will never replace, much less replicate, what happens on college campuses."

These articles are both worth reading to get more to the heart of what all of those writers are trying to say. And both pieces make good points, which isn't the most natural thing for me to admit either about something written by politicians or something written by a skeptic of eLearning. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that eLearning is certain to expand further, from all sorts of institutions. But with useful dialog about the strengths and weaknesses of various ways forward with online education, hopefully the best paths can be found.

This article was originally posted at http://ping.fm/O2Njf

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