Friday, October 28, 2011

Academic Prejudice Against Online Learning

Today I have a guest post from blogger Marina Salsbury, who poses some insightful thoughts about online learning and higher education.  Guest posts are always welcome.  Please drop me a line if you are interested.

The world is changing fast, and so are the ways people pursue higher education. To fit the busy demands of many people today, colleges are coming around to the approach of online learning. This medium for study is gaining popularity because it offers a wide variety of options and a degree of flexibility that wasn't available to students in the past. Students can obtain degrees from GED to PhD online. While a growing number of educators embrace this method of learning and support it wholeheartedly, there are still a great many of those who hold strong prejudices against web-based education and prefer students obtain their degrees the traditional way.

Even though online learning has gained popularity, prejudices against it among educators remains widespread. Often the case is made that a traditional classroom environment is the way to go because such an environment offers hands-on learning, socialization, and in-person experience students simply cannot receive in distance learning courses. Some teachers and administrators feel that online degree programs merely allow students to complete weak courses of study with practically no effort at all. Because this belief is still common, a number of universities feel that an online degree is inferior.

Contrary to the belief that online education can't fully equip students for their careers, research is showing that students are benefiting more from web-based, social learning than from traditional learning environments. The open-ended, flexible, “long-tail” learning enabled and encouraged by the Web is proving more effective and better suited to the changing demands of the real professional world.

Fully web-based education is also appealing to students because in many cases they can work on their courses at any time and any place they wish. Students can learn in their pajamas if they please. The ability to choose the learning environment and the method of learning, as well as a convenient time, increases the accessibility of education, but need not reduce its quality. High dropout rates are sometimes given as evidence of online education's weakness, but in fact inability to keep up with a rigorous academic program more or less entirely under one's own supervision is the reason for this. It's not that students leave because they discover their online courses are no good, but that many lack the self-discipline and time management skill to follow through on college-level studies while working, raising families, or otherwise dealing with life.

As far as not obtaining necessary firsthand experience, technology is now been enabling students to engage in hands-on learning at a distance. Students can learn under the watchful eye of the instructor and replicate much of the classroom environment by using enhanced tools, such as interactive chatting software, message boards, and video. Even high-level scientific research opportunities are available online, taking the wind out of the frequent objection that certain subjects, like lab science, just can't be taught over the Web.

In order for students who have earned online degrees to be treated fairly and overcome prejudices against online learning, educators need to free themselves from some of the paradigms and conventions of traditional teaching and learning. Furthermore, additional concrete studies need to be conducted to demonstrate that students can fare just as well, if not much better online than in conventional classrooms. While there remains a long way to go before educators and the general public will accept that online learning must be given the same respect and appreciation as traditional classroom learning, it probably won't be too long before these prejudices disappear completely. The web-based distance learning movement is growing fast, and the demand for higher education ultimately isn't likely to be met any other way. 

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