Online education has crept into every level of the academic system, from grade school to graduate school. It is now even prevalent in the corporate world as a viable means to train the workforce in areas such as safety, security, and corporate policies.
Online education is really just an offshoot of the old correspondence courses, which allowed people to take classes by mail. With modern technology, it is much faster and more efficient than the days of mailing in your test. There is an informative infographic at straighterline.com which chronicles the history of higher education up to the modern day.
I taught my first online course in 2006. I will admit that I was skeptical at first. How can I be the “sage on the stage” when there is no stage? How can my brilliant wit come shining through emoticons? I was pleasantly surprised after I taught my first course. The students learned as much, if not more, than had I been at the front of the room at the center of attention, and that is the point. Once I removed myself as the only expert in the room, the students shared experiences and learned from each other. It is very important to set up the course correctly in order to stimulate dialogue and interaction but, once it starts, get out of the way and let the learning begin. The instructor then becomes a guide as much as a lecturer.
Today, most public and private universities offer at least one online course and many offer entire online degrees. Employers are accepting online degrees from reputable universities, just as if someone had spent that same time “in the seat”. Many are using the same tools as part of their corporate training. They recognize the quality and efficiency that distributed education brings. If the tools and curriculum are high quality, they can easily rival traditional education.
Course management systems such as Blackboard and eCollege have been around for at least ten years and provide the instructor with a structure for creating and housing online courses and provides the class structure for shared discussions, file repositories, and impromptu virtual meetings. These tools promote open learning and discussion while maintaining the structure of a traditional course. Course development and presentation tools are being refined constantly and new versions are available for the mobile platform.
New tools are coming online that facilitate learning, either for a credit bearing degree or for a life skill or interest. Online education is going mobile and is going very broad. With the advent of MOOC’s or Massive Open Online Courses, companies such as EdX or Coursera are providing the structure for offering courses from prestigious universities such as MIT and Stanford. It is still to be determined how one obtains credit or a certificate from these courses and whether these will be recognized by an employer or another university. With the opening of these courses and online courses around the world, education has come out of the traditional classroom and is now available to any new or continuing student. This is one genie that won’t go back in the bottle.
Let me know what you think the future holds for online education and for education in general.
About Kelly Brown
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.