President’s Column July 2015 by Janet Glass
In the last column, we reflected on survey results published in Harvard Magazine that revealed that most students taking free online courses are older and have bachelor’s degrees.
Online Learning Not Meeting Expectations
Even among students who have a bachelor’s degree, however, online learning may not be suitable. While freelancers, designers, pilots, computer scientists and others may have found a heyday with new learning technologies, it is not for everyone. There are areas of training where, I believe, online learning may be inappropriate or not yet there. Some arts like singing, painting and dance, professionals such as midwives and chefs, craftsmen such as glass-blowers and preschool and kindergarten students may not be well served by teaching through the internet. There are many people who may not have the stamina to finish the courses. The statistics show poor completion rates among students who have begun free courses. New courses need to be created that match the level of students’ abilities and we need courses to improve literacy.
Another problem is that certain businesses take advantage of the public by offering courses that are substandard. The University of Phoenix, for example, had been put on probation for this. Accrediting institutions must be vigilant. Since hiring practices can depend on bona fide credentials, the courses need to be the real thing. Certifying the courses is an issue that will need to be settled before we put too much faith in programs that have too little oversight. In response to this slow process of certification, the researchers reporting in Harvard Magazine say, “That they have not yet delivered on this promise should not blind us to their other benefits.” So, yes, we have work to do.
Bricks and Bytes
Still, while there are many challenges, my impression of learning online is that it will expand as we get better at it. Our economy needs prepared workers. Our country needs educated citizens. All but the wealthy need reasonably priced education. More educators in high schools and colleges are even incorporating high quality pieces taken from free online courses and using them in the classroom. Heartwarming stories are surfacing. A 16 year-old in Mongolia was one of the very few to get 100% on MIT’s free online Circuits and Electronics course. A prodigy was discovered in an area halfway around the world. He is now enrolled in MIT and would never have had the chance from his remote village if it were not for the existence of these courses. He was discovered through free MOOC classes. Good for him and good for us. The world needs more motivated scientists and engineers.
These successes show that the best books, professors and students no longer need to be in the same building or even on the same continent. As for campus life, people can meet and flourish in places like the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County while simultaneously taking advantage of Everywhere University…opportunities for all. Sounds to me like bringing out the best in others.