The Future of Online College Education
The Future of Online College Education
Mel Brown M.Ed, MA
No other technological invention has affected society more than the internet. From its origins of a military tool of having computers communicate with each other, it has evolved into multipurpose technological tool that has effected every social institution. One can have groceries delivered to your house within hours or one can develop a romantic relationship by the use of the internet. Higher education has not only been affected by internet usage, but it has changed the perception and delivery of education as well as access to colleges and universities. This has not come without some consequence. The argument of legitimacy of on line college education is important to the future success online higher education because it has assisted in the gaining of popularity of online education, the development of technological advances of the modern college classroom and understanding how college students learn. Let us first focus on some legitimacy issues and how the argument of legitimacy has contributed to the popularity.
Here are some of the main arguments against online college education by faculty and other education experts.
- Some have long felt that learning alone through a computer does not provide as much intellectual exchange that in-person classes would offer (Elearners, 2008).
- Because the industry is so new, naive consumers may not know the difference between accredited institutions and fly-by-night operations that imply accreditation and charge steep prices (Elearners, 2008).
- Most educators and industry executives acknowledge that e-learning may not be right for young learners who have not developed the discipline needed to work independently (Elearners, 2008).
As the legitimacy issue became popular there is evidence this increased the popularity of online education. On the Google blog search page, there are more than one million two hundred thousand blog subjects on the issue of legitimacy of online college education. Almost all of the bloggers that I saw had at least enrolled one on line course (on both sides of the legitimacy argument). When viewing these blog sites one will discover lively conversations surrounding issues of legitimacy such as questionable consideration accreditation, degree mills, and questionable grading practices. One will also see there are just as many pro bloggers as there con bloggers.
Each group of bloggers cites various sources to support their arguments. The consistent message that was noticeable on both sides of the argument was that deciding upon a college or a university was a personal choice. Most bloggers who had attended online colleges had mentioned at least once that convenience was a deciding factor. Deciding whether to get a college degree online or at a traditional campus is a personal journey. No matter the type of program, one would have to consider time away from family, work and school balance, self motivation level, and quality of the program. Deciding and considering these factors takes a degree of self reflection and research.
Individuals who are deciding upon these factors and ultimately choose an online university are well aware of the controversies of online college education. Factors such as maintaining a job, time with family, flexible schedules, and regional accreditation lead individuals to choosing an online colleges despite the controversies surrounding online institution . People who choose online colleges or universities typically do their homework and research before making their decision, and they are discovering that positives of online college education outweigh the negatives. Despite the recent law suits against University of Phoenix ranging from illegally obtaining millions of dollars of financial aid money to questionable recruiting practices, and states cracking down on diploma mills, enrollment in online college and universities is still strong.
According to a report sponsored by the department of education, 84% of total U.S. college enrollment is nontraditional. Nontraditional students are as follows:
- Who are working adults and often have families
- Enrolled in community colleges or two-year institutions
- Enrolled in continuing or professional education programs
- Enrolled in online higher education programs
- Enrolled in adult education courses or receiving training in the workplace
- Attending for-profit schools Attending part time or less than half time
Traditional brick and mortar colleges have also caught on to the popularity of online courses. There are now over 170 colleges that offer online degrees including a few prestigious familiar names such as Cornell and Harvard (Elearners, 2008).
Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term (Elearners, 2008). And currently the largest private university in the world is University of Phoenix in which offers both online and in person courses―their enrollment is well over 200, 000 worldwide. The popularity of online college education has influenced government policy. Congress passed a law in March 2005 that drops the requirement that colleges offer at least half their courses face to face to receive federal student aid (Elearners, 2008).The new law will undoubtedly attract more students and schools into the fledgling online industry (Elearners, 2008). As online continues to become popular, the technology demands will increase.
The Impact of Online Technology to Traditional and Online Colleges & Universities
Students, instructors and the administrators of traditional and non traditional college campuses are the three immediate benefactors of online education. These groups are affected in positive and negative ways. Flexibility of study time is one of the benefits of online education. Online college students over time also develop discipline, dedication, and a positive attitude towards learning, and with this attitude, students can develop a more direct academic relationship with their professors instead being one of many in a traditional lecture hall (Online, 2008). The hassles and stress of commuting to and from campus every day are eliminated. The potential for isolation and distraction, lack of concentration, and hindered social development are the negative aspects of online college courses (Online, 2008). Other negatives are also prevalent. Often, credit earned from one school is not accepted at another, and many employers do not consider an online degree on the same level with a traditional brick and mortar school.
Instructors of online courses have the convenience of working wherever they choose, and thus reducing the problems of commuting a great distance. Professors who teach online courses have a larger responsibility than traditional instructors since they have to motivate and educate students who have no physical connection with them (Online, 2008). Unemployment fears also exist, as fewer teachers are needed to handle a large number of online students. Finally the college or university gains the advantages of this technology by providing education at a lower cost most of the time and using the latest Internet technology. But the initial costs incurred for equipment, security, retraining and consultation tend to be costly. For any new technology to be embraced on a college campus, faculty must have buy in.
Faculty has had extensive exposure to the Internet but some professors on college campuses may not be technically inclined. For many faculty, the effort required in mastering new technologies, and dealing with mishaps in technology, or to conform their teaching methods to suit their campus' technology hinders rather than helps their teaching. College and University's Technology Departments may have problems with communicating with faculty. In a recent study the majority of faculty stated that the Internet would be of more useful if IT departments were more effective communicators (Lao & Gonzales, 2005).
Course Development, Learning, and Technology
In traditional brick and mortar schools, professors use teaching assistants and Masters Degree student to teach their undergraduate courses thus student rarely interact with professors. With online courses, students can build strong relationships with their professors. The technology behind online college courses has helped a special group of students. The Web and all of its thousands of applications hold great potential as an equalizer for those college students with disabilities (Elearners, 2008). Let us examine the innovative web tools that are used in online college learning. Web CT is used at thousands of learning institutions worldwide. The following information was retrieved from their website WebCT is a leading provider of integrated e-learning systems for higher education. WebCT's e-learning systems deliver advanced educational technology to support a full range of teaching and learning styles.
Online education is amorphous―it has been able to adapt to the needs of the consumer as well its critics. Criticism of online college education has positively affected the industry. When the traditionalist criticized the industry of its standards, thousands of online based colleges became regionally and nationally accredited. Another important note is that some of your most prestigious colleges and universities such as Harvard and Cornell have offered online degrees since the beginning of the online education revolution. Traditionalist criticized the impersonal attribute of online education, but technology such as, web cams and real-time video streaming allowed students to attend courses at comfort of their homes by simply viewing the computer screen. New recent criticism is the threat of hacker and questioning cyber security of online colleges. Cyber security is a real legitimate concern with online colleges since the majority of papers, personal, and financial information is located in secured databases.
Criticism and Learning
It is common knowledge that critics of e-learning have continuously stated that learning alone through a computer does not provide the rich academic and intellectual exchange that traditional courses offer. The supposed superior intellectual exchange that some on-college campus classes offers needs to be questioned especially on the undergraduate level. As an academic advisor I have received countless complaints from students of in-class faculty ranging from uninterested demeanor, uncaring attitude, and downright unapproachable.
As an undergraduate, I have also tried to keep myself awake in cave-like lecture halls, with more than 200 classmates, while following lectures delivered by a low volume professor who would rather be doing anything than teaching undergraduates. This to me is not an example of superior intellectual exchange. But during my graduate years, my courses had fewer students, and I was able to interact in and out of class with my professors creating a lasting bond and impression. In response to this, online colleges have restructured and upgraded their standards and earned accreditation status regionally and nationally. Most web college course application account for all learning styles by offering web cam courses, audio streamed courses, interactive chat rooms, discussion boards.
The process of criticism and the argument of legitimacy of online college are two perspectives that have pushed online education forward in terms of innovations in education delivery and technology as well as the popularity of online college education. Proponents are encouraged of its eventual success knowing of the history of education accepting and embracing technology. Opponents has cited examples of educational corruption with stories of degree mills, low standards, and open admission policies as reasons not attend online colleges―and furthermore most traditional college instructors feel that face to face interaction is the best education delivery system.
Anything that is new to the status quo is either overlooked or feared, and online college education has had a good dose of both. There is evidence out there in various literary forms of a bias toward non traditional colleges. When there is negative press coverage of online colleges and universities the entire industry is questioned―the same cannot be the said of a traditional university or college.
Admissions staff at a California Community College was accused of changing grades for students for a fee. When this made press, there was not a call to review the entire California community college system.
In 2006, two medical doctors in Kentucky were convicted due to practicing without a license, and it was discovered that their degrees were from a diploma mill (Contreras, 2008). This caused the Kentucky legislature to investigate all non accredited colleges in the state (Contreras, 2008).
As one can see, Internet courses have helped more than hindered college students, faculty, and staff. The technology has made the lives of students, faculty, and staff easier because of convenience and the ease to which teachers and students can interact. The possible negative is that there may be a reduction of teachers due to the increased popularity of online courses. College faculty and instructors roles would be redefined. As more schools go online, Internet security becomes a bigger priority as well as potential nuisance.
As online colleges improve their processes such as their use of technology, researching coursework development, reacting positively to criticism, and accounting for the learning process, they will become a part of the higher education main stream, and be thought of as normal institutions of higher education.
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