Phi Beta Cons

Critiquing Online Learning, Part Two

As I mentioned in the first part of my online-education critique, we must be frank about who takes online courses.

The media want you to think that motivated and busy adults who cannot get to campus constitute the majority of enrolled students. That may be true if you are a Phoenix, but not if you are teaching at State U. I’ve taught online at both medium and large public universities, and in both cases, the non-traditional students were 25 percent of the class or less. 

There is a large body of well-intentioned, traditional students who see online courses as a way to squeeze another class into a packed semester schedule. “Squeeze” is student code for “get three more credits with less work.” Busy? Check. Motivated? Not so much.

Some students can learn whatever is taught while underwater and blindfolded — just like a motivated exerciser can get a rigorous workout while stuck in a freight elevator. But schools don’t pre-screen online courses for the students who have best chance of succeeding.

Students with a GPA below 2.5 fail my online courses at a 40 percent clip, and I’m not one of the “harder professors.” The real-time classroom holds such students accountable in ways that online courses cannot. Sure, learning management systems such as Blackboard and Moodle allow for real-time online classes, but the popular push is for asynchronous and independent courses so that more people can quickly get work-force-readiness credentials for social mobility.

Yes, distance education can do some neat things; I’m still working on ways to make it more effective. But, any honest talk about the future of such classes must readily acknowledge the limitations. 

Most Popular


For the First Time in Weeks, Relief Sweeps over Austin

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Austin bomber is done in by one of his own devices; some new numbers suggest that a small but significant portion of Trump voters are tiring of the chaos and aren’t showing up to support other Republicans in 2018; and the mixed news for conservatives coming out of the ... Read More

The Baleful Effect of #MeToo on Campus

Remember the series of hurricanes that pounded the Caribbean last summer? Something like that has been occurring on college campuses, as they're hit by one destructive mania after another: diversity, Title IX, anti-speech protests. Now it's the #MeToo Movement. In this Martin Center article, British academic ... Read More
Politics & Policy

March Mailbag

1. In response to this post, about the Fed and fiscal stimulus: “So are you saying that deficit spending is a free lunch because the Fed will keep inflation from happening? You say [extra government spending] won’t ‘raise economic output’ but what’s the harm of it if you’re right?” I see at least ... Read More


For your amusement, I hope, I’ve done a Jaywalking episode. It begins with a bit of the overture to Semiramide -- a Rossini opera I reviewed from the Met last week. Then I get into Russia and, after a while, China. The Marriott company fired an employee for “liking” a tweet by a Tibetan independence group. ... Read More

Campaigns for World Down Syndrome Day Go Viral

As World Down Syndrome Day approaches on Wednesday, several campaigns supporting those with the condition have taken over the Internet. Fifty mothers of children with the condition put together a viral video of them and their children singing along in the car. The video helped the children and their mothers ... Read More