Going entirely online?

There is still nothing like a consensus around the role of and potential for online learning. While there are now possibly thousands of university programmes available for free online – including all those collected together through Apple’s iTunes U (which has now hit 600 million downloads) – and while universities and colleges across the world increasingly offer at least some of their programmes in online versions, most degree programmes are still delivered in a classroom setting, perhaps now supported by online materials.

But what will happen in the future? Some are now suggesting that online eduction will make campus-based programmes obsolete. I don’t take that view, in part because the classroom experience still has significant value and will, I suspect, continue to dominate the school-leaver higher education market. But there are some points worth noting:

  • the growth of online programmes or programme materials has brought in its train more serious reviews of pedagogy and learning methodologies (for online and classroom teaching) than had been in evidence for decades previously;
  • the availability of materials and sources has been significantly enhanced; but
  • there is a significant risk that some stakeholders, including governments, may believe that elearning can save money, whereas in reality it needs to be very well funded and supported; and
  • developing elearning is not the same thing as just putting previously used classroom materials online; and some courses may not work well online at all.

Finally, given the costs and the need to maintain the latest technology, I suspect that learning will work best when it is developed and delivered in collaboration between several providers.

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12 Comments on “Going entirely online?”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    can you expand a bit on what you have in mind by ‘several providers’?

  2. Vincent Says:

    Where would you find good/credible second level free maths courses for an adult that wants to reboot. And I suppose in most cases install for the first time, truth be told.


  3. The quality of the teaching/learning dialectic is propably more dependent on the qualities of the brains involved than the communication medium, I should think.

  4. Jeff W Says:

    Vincent, have you checked out Khan academy? Might be a good starting point… http://www.khanacademy.org/#browse

  5. anna notaro Says:

    A word of caution when it comes to discussion about going entirely online. About a year ago Gov. of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty in conversation with Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” proposed what, in his opinion, was the most efficient business model for higher education, one where networked learners can simply pull down their just-in-time education onto their iPads, he claimed:

    “Do you really think in 20 years somebody’s going to put on their
    backpack drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the
    suburbs, hault their keester across campus and listen to some boring
    person drone on about Spanish 101 or Econ 101? . . . Is there another way to deliver the service other than a one size fits all monopoly provided that says show up at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101, can’t I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it from wherever I feel like, and instead of paying thousands of dollars can I pay 199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes, you know?”

    Of course Pawlenty is oblivious to the fact that quality online courses are neither cheap nor easy to teach…If that is the future model of online education, i personally want no part in it..

  6. Niall Says:

    The social aspect of learning should not be ignored – meeting peers, developing a sense of belonging, interacting with lecturers. I would like to see campuses moving more towards the blended model (i.e. blend of face-to-face and online). Each environment has its strengths and weaknesses. Face-to-face is good for workshops and small group teaching. Large, anonymous lectures are not so good. Online tools such as blogs, wikis and discussion boads give a chance to reflect and discuss topics. Teaching needs to be designed to make the most of the opportunities technologies afford (this is not a trivial task). So much more is possible than publishing content.


  7. To compete with face-to-face education, online education only has to improve on one (or more) of the following:

    (i) Cost – not difficult if you only have to achieve the quality of existing education, which is not particularly high. Very easy if you calculate total costs including travel, accommodation and general inconvenience.
    (ii) Quality. It may be difficult in some areas to achieve perfect education online, but as stated above, given the quality of existing education which is quite mixed, this is not hard.
    (iii) Access. Like shooting fish in a barrel – no contest.

    Part-time learners are flocking to online learning because of the convenience. They are generally very satisfied with what they find there. As competition increases costs will drop (not too difficult). We can leave quality for later.

    Why is it that online learning is expected to achieve standards of quality that do not exist in face-to-face education?

    Face-to-face will dominate for some time to come but for other reasons like the effective monopoly public service providers have in this sector.

    • anna notaro Says:

      *(i) Cost – not difficult if you only have to achieve the quality of existing education, which is not particularly high.*
      I find these sort of blanket-broad comments not only inaccurate but also disrespectful of the hard work put in by lots of educators who DO strive and often contribute significantly to the high quality of vast sectors of existing education…ok everyone is entitled to his/her own opinions but personally I would not dream of producing such an assessment on areas I have very little knowledge on..


      • @anna Yes, it is not a good idea to comment on areas that one has no knowledge of. I’ve been teaching in higher education since 1984 and am well aware of the mixed quality ranging from very high to very low, but mostly towards the middle with lots of room for improvement. I’ve been organising online courses since 2002 and know that it is not that difficult (despite what Ferdinand claims) to match the higher end of the quality spectrum of face-to-face classes.

        I find that those who are good online teachers are also good at face-to-face. In fact online teaching tends to improve their face-to-face teaching. However, poor face-to-face teachers struggle in online. The medium is not the issue.


  8. @anna Thanks for the congrats. So you agree that I have some right to comment and that my observations have value?

    Originally I said “not particularly high” which is a reference to average standards, and in the same post “quite mixed” which is a reference to the level of variation. (Sorry I did not have a mean and standard deviation to hand but academics are notoriously defensive about measuring their work). I would have thought that “mixed quality” in my second posting was consistent with the original. Perhaps you have a more precise understanding of English than me.

    I am aware that a lot of educators do work hard, but it is hard to know how many do so. A lot do things that they think are good but may not be and a lot work hard at other parts of their jobs like research. We cannot really know unless they let us measure properly.


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