Can Traditional and Online Education Co-Exist?
Technology has disrupted every sector of our economy, from manufacturing to health care, to banking and more. It only makes sense that it will continue to disrupt education as well. What began as “correspondence” courses in the 70’s and 80’s (with a poor reputation) has been transformed into online education from elementary coursework through graduate programs.
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Just how far this will all go is the subject of much discussion. Suffice it to say, however, that it online education is here to stay, that it is a rapidly evolving phenomenon, and that it will affect all students’ lives from this point forward.
But will it replace traditional schools? Some say so, evidenced by the fact that top-tier universities have now come on board.
The Problem with Traditional Education
While many traditional educators blame online education for their woes and declining enrollments, the issue goes far deeper. Is it to graduate students with classical liberal arts training, accompanied by a degree in a field that has really taken two years to complete (once all of the gen ed requirements are met)? Or is it to prepare students for actual employability and careers? If we opt for the second answer, then traditional four-year institutions, which continue to price themselves out of the market, will continue to decline. Why pay that price, especially at private schools, colleges, and universities, if cheaper, more targeted career-based education is available? And as more and more employers come to value reputable online programs, the problems for traditional school environments deepen.
The Benefits of Online Learning Programs
Whether it is an elementary child being home-schooled or a Master’s degree student completing an online degree while working full time, technology has brought the following benefits:
- Flexibility of Learning
Given that learning activities – from lectures to assignments, to software access and more – can be accessed based upon the learner’s schedule is huge. Now, there are some constraints here. Because of newer video conferencing, discussions boards, etc., there are scheduled activities, the times for which must be met. And, as augmented and virtual reality begins to take their places, virtual classrooms will become more and more important.
The flexibility of learning environment, however, does not mean that coursework is any less challenging. There will still be reading assignments, projects, writing essays and papers, and exams. What is does mean is that some of the external pressures are removed.
- Lower Tuition/Housing Costs
Especially for college students, the cost is a big deal. Given that the average student loan debt today for those graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree is at $37,172, and that total student loan debt in the U.S is over a trillion dollars, this is a major factor for students who want that degree but less debt. Students who thought college financially unreachable can now see the possibilities. And there is financial aid available for online students too – but the total debt, in the end, will be less.
- Other Cost Savings
When students can learn from anywhere – at work, at home, at the local library or coffee shop, not only do they have a more comfortable environment or get academic help from best writing advisor elsewhere. But they do not face the transportation and parking costs that attending on a traditional campus entails.
One of the early downsides of correspondence courses and online coursework was the isolation that students felt – all on their own, listening to a lecture or completing assignments. Technology has changed all of this. Now, with virtual classrooms and face-to-face interactions, not to mention group discussions, activities, and projects, isolation does not need to be a factor. Problem solved.
How Do Traditional Schools Survive?
No one is predicting the imminent demise of traditional schools. But change they must. There are several things that can make traditional and online schooling co-exist peacefully with one another.
- High Schools and Colleges Must Form Partnerships
There is room for many collaborative efforts as we educate students for their futures.
- High schools must partner with local business and industry to develop curricula that will meet the needs of the economy, especially for those students who do not plan to pursue post-secondary education.
- The same thing goes for community colleges – they should be a beginning for students who want a traditional four-year degree but they should also be a terminal education point for those who wish to get contemporary skills that make them employable after a two-year degree. Only by partnering with business and industry will this happen.
- Traditional schools must embrace a combination of traditional and online programs. Many of them do already, but it must go far beyond the MOOC’s that many elite schools are now offering. There is a new educational consumer entering the market. And they are not the students whose parents are “seeing them through” their college degrees. They want value; they want efficiency; they want flexibility and relevancy. Colleges and universities that meet those needs will survive.
Schooling has to be worth the investment – of time and of money. Technology has done much to make this investment far more palatable to students and parents. And instructors and professors are embracing the technology in record numbers. They are developing online coursework that is every bit as challenging and valuable as sitting in a physical classroom.
If nothing else, online ed has forced the traditional higher education establishment to ask itself the fundamental question: what exactly constitutes learning?
That is not to say that online education will completely supplant the traditional classroom model, which has been the fear of many in the education establishment. Rushkoff writes that the trick is remembering that learning is best when it takes place in the “native environment.” Disciplines that reply in interaction with computers will do well when they transition online. The video lecture combined with online exercises is an excellent way to teach computer science and math, for example.
But it is not – and never will be – the best way to teach philosophy, he says. Nor will computers fully supplant human-led classes until they become more “humans” themselves. Teachers are trained to respond to the makeup of each individual class and tailor the way material is delivered to meet their diverse needs. MOOCs at the moment are strictly one-size-fits-all deal, which means they are poorly designed to help the outliers.