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Why the Academy Must Embrace Online Learning


Posted on Nov 19, 2012

In Why the academy must embrace its online future, Wei Lien Dang, a JD/MBA student at Harvard University guest writes for VentureBeat and discusses several reasons why universities are under pressure to develop and distribute online courses, and also suggests that the universities that fail to do so may not be able to continue existing.

The basis for Dang’s reasons why online learning is a must is that “a perfect storm of record-level student debt, stagnating job growth, and soaring tuition prices” suggests that “traditional approaches are failing to adequately equip students with the skills they need to be successful.” Eventually, and seemingly sooner rather than later, students and parents will reach a breaking point where they are no longer willing to incur debt or pay exorbitant amounts of money for a university experience that is not at all what was promised on the package.

A major problem in higher education is that, despite climbing tuition, universities are continually struggling with budget cuts. This results in students paying higher rates to have a selection of fewer classes with more students in them that may not be taught by the highly qualified individuals a student may have been led to believe would be teaching a given course. Even worse, students may find that classes they have been told the classes they must take are full. The more this sort of thing happens, the less reasonable it seems to attend university, especially when jobs are not available, despite having a college degree. Dang argues that “online platforms are a low-cost way for universities to support, rather than hinder, students’ learning in light of the resource constraint.”

Accompanying other newer and developing problems is the age-old problem of a lack of customized programs for students. It is known that not all students learn at the same rate, and while schools have attempted to offer courses of varying difficulty levels, it continues to be impossible to allow every student to learn at the pace that best suits him or her. This is problematic now more than ever because “online classes mean that students can learn at the pace that’s right for them, which translates into better learning overall.” It follows, then, that the universities that pursue online programs will become more popular and produce more successful students then universities who do not follow suit.

The final reason Dang gives for embracing online learning is that it will allows for more innovative content. Currently, instructors generally spend a few years building up a “content base” that they then teach off of for many years to follow. In some cases, it might seem to students that instructors are using the same materials today that they used a decade ago, with perhaps only minor tweaks, and in many cases, this might be true. Rather than force all professors to waste time tweaking material year after year, Dang feels that “moving classes online means that content and teaching materials can be distributed on a recurring basis at a low cost,” which consequently allows instructors more time to develop new and unique content.

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

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