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. 


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