Some Nuances of Online Education
Today, it’s possible to learn the basics of almost any subject online. Some universities even offer free courses, helping increase accessibility to learning content online from valid sources. Online learning isn’t limited to self-education, however. In the last two decades, more and more universities have started offering online degree programs. As with any change, there are people who love the idea, and people who hate it. Below are some of the issues surrounding online education.
One of the main draws to online education is accessibility. Anyone with internet access can complete coursework and have access to class materials. This means that people who can’t afford to relocate have easier access to programs that weren’t accessible to them before. This is especially important for specialized programs that may not be offered in every state. Michael Crow, the president of ASU, one of the first schools to fully embrace online degree programs, has been quoted saying “Anyone can learn anything,” and encourages innovation in teaching and learning structures to meet needs that have historically been undermet by universities.
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to online education is quality. Can complicated information and skillsets be communicated through digital means? Of course, the answer is complicated. Some people need hands-on teaching in order to retain information. This can be done online through use of video chat and regular communication, but it takes more intentional focus than classroom learning, where hands-on is the default.
A major quality concern is who is doing the teaching. Many online learning programs are managed by tech companies hired by universities. Currently, federal regulations prevent these outsourced companies from being involved in curriculum, but of course there have been violations. Just like in the traditional classroom, universities must be held accountable to providing beneficial services to students.
Many people are concerned that a large number of online degree programs are provided by for-profit universities. This is a valid concern, but not limited to online programs. Many private traditional universities are for-profit. Both online and in-person programs need to be accountable to regulations that protect students from predatory practices. The bottom line is that students need to receive an education worth the amount of money they pay. They need to be able to benefit from that education, and there should be limits on how much profit can be made off of students who simply want to better their chances at future success.
Overall, I think that the conversation about online learning needs to be included in talks about education in general. With current concerns about the operations of the Department of Education, it’s important for all educational formats to be considered comprehensively. Education should be accessible and valuable to all who seek it, and the more options there are, the better. Some students will learn better online, while others won’t. The key is to provide equal options for people of all abilities and backgrounds.