Online education is here. It’s not going anywhere and will soon have parity in terms of quality with traditional face-to-face learning. Like anything in education, it takes time, energy and effort from all parties involved just to start moving the wheels of progress and to achieve change. Online education is growing significantly from the past decades with an increase in course offerings and online student enrollment. Between 2002 and 2009 we went from having 1.6 million online higher education learners to 5.6 million online learners[i]. Online education has become a tool for universities to bridge the gap in course offerings for current students and to serve as an avenue for gaining newer more nontraditional students. It has increased the ability of students to take classes anywhere they want with a click of a button. While keeping the cost constant, online Education has provided an opportunity to individuals from all walks of life to become students again, to learn and to progress. Time constraints and location restriction has become a thing of the past.
With this tremendous growth and profit potential, universities have expanded their arsenal of online classes but have failed to meet the demand of faculty recruiting and training and to create strict guidelines ensuring that students and faculty involved understand their roles, responsibilities and expectations. This has led to the “McDonaldization” of education where distinctive classes with specialized faculty have been replaced with standardized courses and generic content and multiple-choice examinations prevail[ii]. Even though this problem is faced in both online and traditional classrooms, it is more profound in online education as more effort is need to be placed in course construction and trainings to empower learners.
It’s the job of the various departments in the university to help train faculty and modify their hiring practices. They need to ensure ample resources and time is offered to faculty, keeping in mind their efficacy to teach online. Faculties should equally focus on learning outcomes and nurturing an online learning community. In order to do so faculty need to focus on connection, safety, participation, support, belonging and empowerment[iii]. They need to be motivated and incentivized to change their teaching techniques and lesson plans to better fit the virtual learning environment[iv]. Ample support needs to be provided to faculty transitioning from traditional to online classes in terms of more funding for training and more administrative support. Increasing teacher efficacy is as important as preparing students when it comes to online learning.
Time constrained students enjoy online classes as it provides them flexibility. Students need to understand that they are not passive recipients of knowledge; rather they have to participate to gain this knowledge. It’s from this participation that learning will take place. Online education has made it easier for time constrained and location restricted non-traditional students to get quality education. We need to make this diversity our strength. Online education allows us to work with many different kinds of students, we need to use this diversity to better train our faculty and administration to provide world class education to students from all walks of life. And we need to make sure that the students and faculty are on the same page when it comes to expectations and norms in online learning. Universities and their respective departments not only have to ensure proper training for the faculties and to help them achieve higher efficacy in online education but also help current and incoming students understand their role and responsibilities in online education to ensure that online education is on par with traditional learning.
Professional development of students and faculty should be a priority but so should constant evaluation and feedback. As online education has grown, the question has gone from how to get students to how to ensure quality. Now the question is about quality in regards to scalability[v]. For online education we need good infrastructure and support centers for both students and faculties. We need constant feedback, peer evaluation and both formal and informal evaluations to ensure quality in online education. A clear set of guidelines and expectations should be created for students to ensure they understand what they are getting out of online classes. A sense of community needs to develop among the students and the professors to allow learning to take place.
Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the universities, faculty and the students to truly make online education available on a global scale. With online education, distance becomes a variable not a deciding factor for students. We as students need to do our part in making online education a success by participating and being prepared. Universities need to provide ample resources for their faculty to transition into virtual classes allowing them to make a difference one student a time.
[i] Sener, J. (2010). Why online education will attain full scale. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 14(4), 3-16.
[ii] Driscoll, A., Jicha, K., Hunt, A. N., Tichavsky, L., & Thompson, G. (2012). Can online courses deliver in-class results? A comparison of student performance and satisfaction in an online versus a face-to-face introductory sociology course. Teaching Sociology, 40(4), 312-331. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1177/0092055X12446624
[iii] Ritter, C., Polnick, B., Fink, R., & Oescher, J. (2010). Classroom learning communities in educational leadership: A comparison study of three delivery options. The Internet and Higher Education,13(1-2), 96-100. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.11.005
[iv] Walter, C. (2016). What are tutors’ experiences with online teaching?: A phenomenographic study. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 8(1), 18-33. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.4018/IJMBL.2016010102
[v] Kunz, M. B., & Cheek, R. G. (2016). How AACSB-accredited business schools assure quality online education. Academy of Business Journal, 1(1), 105-115.