November 11th, 2009

Fast times at online high

In researching stories about the effects of the recession on higher education, earlier this year, we looked into the spread of college courses taught online. Because students can take online courses from home, they are often cheaper. According to a new study from the Department of Education, they might also be better.

onlinelearningThe study, an “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning”, includes research from 1996 to 2008, and focuses mostly on online courses for adults in continuing education programs. For years, continuing education has been where the bulk of online learning has happened. According to the New York Times:

Until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses. That has really changed with arrival of Web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools.

In other words, online learning has been and will continue to be transformed by its ability to bring people together. The Times quotes Philip Regier, the dean of Arizona State’s Online and Extended Campus program:

“People are correct when they say online education will take things out of the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

Last week, John Merrow wrote about the potential uses of technology in the classroom, and the resistance to innovation that exists in some public school communities. If online learning can truly “take things out of the classroom,” though, one wonders whether it will be possible to integrate an online classroom with its real-life counterpart. And how will these new learning communities affect the kind of “hands-on” (for lack of a better term) learning that traditional school fosters? Play, classroom discussion, and verbal communication all seem to be at stake.

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom [NY Times, 8/19/09]

Technology in Schools: Problems & Possibilities [Taking Note, 11/3/09]

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