Online Learning … A Failure?

I came across this article last night and cued it up for a quick read today and thought I’d post a few thoughts and reactions — of course from my point of view. The article, Online Education Flunks But New Focus May Spark Revival, is an interesting read and does a decent, if limited job of describing the challenges of the eLearning boom and (perceived) bust. I understand the point of the piece is to look at the big-time (for-profit) initiatives lots of Universities engaged in and around the Internet craze of the dot com era … where it fails to go, IMHO, is at the way these distance or web-based learning initiatives have driven resident education.

Get in the way back machine with me for a minute … when I came to PSU, I was fresh off my stint in start up land and had just accepted a position at the University in the World Campus (WC) as an Instructional Designer. At that time, the WC was all abuzz with huge upside, tremendous growth potential, and the start up feeling I had just left. The only problem was that the University, in traditional University fashion, went head first into the initiative without a whole lot of thought on how to actually implement the thing. Our early numbers showed that … the University did lay some amazing groundwork to what has become a successful program, but a lot of that has happened in the last couple years … they’ve since built a relatively efficient process, workable policies, done some major reorganizing, and taken a few lumps to create a sustainable model. One thing that struck me about the WC back in the day was that eLearning courses built by us in the WC were not to be used for resident education, period … that was a very strange decision in my mind (of course I didn’t understand the political underpinnings at the time) … and one they’ve since reassessed.

Fast-forward a couple of years as I move over to the School of Information Sciences and Technology to get our eLearning initiative going and to do it the right way. I was one of the first employees in the School, so there wasn’t the history of how it was done in the past — we invented our situation. We decided from day one that eLearning would support our resident offerings first and be used for distance education second. Fundamentally, a great idea given our School was a start up and was at 19 of the PSU Campuses across the Commonwealth of PA. eLearning was used to support a consistent and quality learning experience in the classroom. That is a key differentiator … our eLearning materials are designed to help faculty at all locations get the real core of what IST is all about.

I think going forward we’ll see more success for pure DE types deliveries, ala World Campus, but I think more and more schools (k-20) will be using designed content as the basis for a lot of what happens in the classroom. Its funny, the year I came to IST to start the Solutions Institute I went to the President’s State of the University Address and listened to him say something to the effect of, “I see a day in the future where all of our resident courses will be a blended, hybrid structure with both in class and eLearning components …” It made me sort of angry at the time … I thought, why isn’t he talking about IST, we’ve been preaching hybrid for a year now? Looking back, I know he was. To date our eLearning program, Online IST, has touched over 10,000 enrollments in just four and half years … what’s amazing is that faculty have chosen to adopt it to change what goes on in the classroom. Good stuff!

eLearning isn’t at all dead, and was never a bust … its alive and will continue to fundamentally change what we as teachers do and what our students come to expect. Its a perspective thing … and its easy to have my point of view sitting inside the non-profit world of higher education, but let’s get real, if it didn’t make a difference and it was bleeding dollars we’d be done with it. Or, I’ll be wrong again … who knows … what do you think?

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