Seems as if everywhere one looks these days, people have some things to say about online learning.
On one hand - and I say this as someone who has been around the online learning block a time or two - It's about damn time. It is nice to finally see online learning getting its fair share of attention.
We're not talking about distance education here - that is, the delivery of courses using broacast or telephony technologies. We not talking about elearning either, if one tends to think of elearning as the delivery of asychncronous, pre-packaged content for indidivual viewing at one's own pace. We are talking about courses being delivered via the Internet. Sometimes with an instructor, sometimes not. Sometimes with real-time activities, sometimes, not. What they have in common is that some percentage, all the way up to 100% of the course, is accesible via the Internet.
Seems to make sense, given how much of contemporary life plays itself out on the Internet today, don't you think?
The number of people turning to online learning as a solution for pursuing a college degree on more flexible terms than possible at a traditional post-secondary institution is growing like crazy. 4.6 million adults in the US are currently online students. That says something, right there.
So I am a little bit shocked at some of the nasty-grams that have been popping up lately, questioning the quality, relevancy, value and impact of online learning.
Just today I noticed this particular news item from CNN, asking if online learning is good for the armed forces. In reading the article, I realized that CNN was equating online learning with for profit universities. And the inference is that both are bad.
These days, for-profit universities and colleges are coming under intense scrutiny and are generating waves of raucous criticism for being predatory, "bad actors". Economists have called them the next sub-prime market. The practices of several for-profit institutions have harshly criticized in a recent Senate hearing, with all for-profit institutions, AND all online programs effectively being tarred with the same brush. Worries over financial aid fraud and academic integrity continue to plague online learning and were also raised in the Senate hearings. Gainful employment requrements are being discussed and proposed as a requirement for financial aid eligibility in online - er, for-profit degree programs.
While online education is increasingly equated with for-profit education, more than 90% of today's traditional instituions also offer some kind of online courses or programs. This means that there are online learning practitioners at state schools, AND private schools, AND community colleges, as well as for-profit schools. So whether or not the intent is to curb the excesses of a few "bad actor" schools, regulations that touch online learning practice touch about every institution.
Online learning has tipped into mainstream consciousness. That is a good thing. Let's be conscious about how we let our practice be governed / regulated / accredited. Quality counts. So does being fair, equitable and focused on the right questions. At a time when more adults need more opportunties for developing skills needed for a new economy, it's going to be essential to get past hyperbole and rhetoric.