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The Real Trouble With Higher Ed

Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Of late, there has been talk regarding a “crisis” in higher education. Those on the left argue that the increasing popularity of online learning is indicative of the fact that traditional higher education is failing to meet the needs to students, whereas those on the right contend that students may be better off diving right into the business world. Beth Rubin, assistant professor at DePaul University School for New Learning, though, believes that people are discussing the wrong issue.

In The Real Trouble With Online Higher Ed, Dr. Rubin suggests that “the problem is the current system’s failure to develop essential competencies in a cost-effective way.” Rubin likens traditional courses with meals prepared by star chefs. Each meal differs from chef to chef, and sometimes on a day-to-day basis, just as each course differs depending on each professor’s educational philosophy. To that extent, the development and administration of a traditional course is inefficient, which therefore leads to higher costs.

Rubin also acknowledges that online courses seem to struggle with the exact opposite issue. Online courses can be efficiently developed and deployed to thousands of students, but courses lack depth, “often can’t develop complex skills,” and fail to provide unique feedback on a per-student basis. Ultimately, Rubin feels that “it is efficient, but some students don’t get the individualized feedback needed to develop their skills.”

In a world where, according to Rubin, traditional university courses are carefully-crafted and unique meals at a classy restaurant and online courses are an “educational McDonalds” where “the service is fast but the intellectual nutrition may not be high,” what are we to do to solve the problem that exists in higher education? Rubin suggests that we pay more attention to a blended approach to learning. Both online learning and traditional courses offer benefits, but there is no reason to choose between the two when we can have the best of both worlds through blended learning.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

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