Did you hear? News just broke that our U.S. Education Department gave it’s blessing to online programs that award college credit—based not on how much time a student spends in a classroom but by how much they know and can do. It’s a new day.
State higher education officers, across the nation, are following suit, developing agreements that will cut the “red tape” that discourages colleges from offering online courses across state lines. Other states are now allowing students to get college credit for online courses when the class is full, even if the course is from a private vendor. Wow. It really is a new day. Time to return home and turn that laptop on. Now you get college credit for what you learn there.
You probably know adults have debated whether online courses are actually good for our kids. Concerns center around the questions:
- Do the students really learn as much from a screen as a live teacher?
- Is it just easier to inflate grades and not ensure learning is taking place?
- Will this form of education lower their soft skills and communication skills?
The fact is—we will need to answer these questions, because ready or not, the screen is quickly overcoming the “live” classroom as the preferred model. My son, Jonathan, agrees. He’s enrolled in both classroom and online courses at a local community college. He is chipping away at his general education before entering a liberal arts university. When I asked him to evaluate both venues he didn’t hesitate. He much prefers the online courses. In fact, he said, “My classroom teacher is actually more boring than the static computer screen. And, I can work on my own.”
Five Reasons Students Prefer Online Courses
Let me prompt some thought and discussion on why online learning is not going away, and how we must adapt to this form of education as time marches on.
1. It revolves around a screen. Students love screens.
When I interview students taking online courses, they remind me that a screen is their natural habitat. They are digital natives. Screenagers. Interfacing with a screen is often more normal than interacting with someone face-to-face.
2. It enables students to work at their own pace.
According to one survey, the primary reason students prefer online learning is that it enables them to go slow or fast, based on whether they “get” the information. This is how they approach video games, Facebook, and other social media outlets.
3. It empowers interaction, even for the shy students.
Several faculty members who proctor and facilitate online courses agreed recently that shy or introverted students are more apt to weigh in on a discussion when it’s a digital dialogue as opposed to a face-to-face one, where they get intimidated.
4. It allows a virtually unlimited amount of students to enroll.
One big challenge colleges face is helping students finish their degree. “We just can’t achieve that with our current model,” says Rachel Fishman, a Washington think tank leader. “We need flexible pathways where working people can find time to finish.”
5. It’s less expensive than classroom space.
College For America is a pace-setter, based at Southern New Hampshire University. Loads of students (all ages) are mastering 120 competencies and advance based on assessments not grades. Why? Tuition is $2,500. How? No brick and mortar.
Does this online stuff lower academic rigor? Time will tell, but this technology is not going away.