The Continuing Controversy Over Online Education part 4

New Problems, New Solutions

We feel that many of the inherent logistical problems with online education have been conquered by recent technological advances, many of which are new and not widely understood. It is now possible for students to interact with each other via online forums and the contact the professor even more directly and in more detail than in a classroom. We fully agree that online college courses are not for everyone. The strongest advantages of distance education, namely a flexible schedule and lack of required physical travel also mean that a student must be both motivated and self disciplined.

Some students work better within a tightly scheduled framework. But this is not an option for many students including (but not limited to) fulltime workers, working mothers , or members of the military . For those who can handle themselves as well as coursework, self-paced distance learning may be the best (if not the only) chance at a college degree. And with a 21% jump in online enrollment in 2010 alone, it seems that the “customers” agree.3

It cannot be denied that when considering any non-accredited institution, it is vitally important that those credits can be transferred to an accredited institution. If one takes individual ACE-reviewed and recommended courses, a student may be able to transfer them to one of the over 1200 participating colleges.

Some choices are also less expensive than others. Although the general belief seems to be that most online courses cost as much or more than traditional courses – which is true in many cases – it is not true across the board. For example, StraighterLine offers required college courses online for only $99 a month plus a $39 per course 1 time registration fee that are reviewed and recommended by ACE. These courses cost a small fraction of what traditional colleges charge, and even cost less than the cheapest online colleges . They are also guaranteed to be accepted at StraighterLine’s growing network of partner colleges.

As for AP courses, it is important to remember that what really counts is not the pedigree of the course itself, but how well you do on the AP Exam. If you truly apply yourself to an online AP program, you can succeed in passing the exams and racking up some college credits.

Our experts do not rule out the Internet option, but remain unenthusiastic about the prospect of attending college online without any physical campus experience. But most of them think that for some people it is an appropriate choice. They are cautionary of, if not outright opposed to, online preparation for college. But with the increasing pressures on high schools to reduce both budgets and class size, it is apparent that the continuing surge in distance learning, whether blended or entirely online is inevitable. Besides, the availability of online education is a resource, one that we believe is going to continue to expand, regardless of any lingering skepticism.

This concludes our series. We began by asking a group of educational professionals three questions, with the intention of running a single article. Instead, we found the answers so engaging and informative that we decided to devote an article to each question. We greatly appreciate the time and effort our panel went to in order to provide us with their input. In return, we have made every effort not to distort or “conveniently abbreviate” their positions.

It is abundantly clear that educators, while willing to consider online education in particular circumstances, approach it with considerable hesitation. Distance learning is not a new concept, but online learning powered by high-speed Internet is. We realize the pressure of expanding demand and shrinking budgets are squeezing the educational process but we have every hope that this new (and improved) medium will fill the gap.

We want to thank everyone on our panel once again. It has been a most enjoyable and informative experience. And who knows, if they are willing, we may be asking them a few more questions in the future.

3 I. Elaine Allen, Jeff Seaman, Class Differences: Online education in the United States, 2010, The Sloan Consortium, Babson Survey Research Group, Abstract