The Surge in Online Military Education Part 3

A war of words

But these objections dodge the issue: If it were easy to get a degree from a stateside university while on active duty, well, then that’s what members of the military would be doing in the first place. The whole idea of online education in the military is that a student can study when and where they have the time. Self-paced online college courses allow a student to push as hard as he or she wants. If a soldier is on active duty, the choice is not between fulltime classroom education and online education. Fulltime classroom education is unlikely to be a realistic option at all.

Occasionally traditional college advocates will refer to “quickie diplomas”. And yes, a soldier can often get a degree substantially quicker online than in the classroom. But that’s a good thing if you’re coming out of the military and don’t have four years to retrain before you can get a good job. And the conventional education community does not hesitate to offer – and encourage – accelerated learning programs of its own.

Likewise, online colleges are criticized for lack of predetermined and enforced schedule. But for those on active duty or working veterans it can be important to take some extra time online and get a degree over a more extended period. Setting one’s own pace is vital for a good education. And, for that matter, brick-and-mortar colleges have extended schedule options for that, too.

In their haste to criticize, traditional colleges are often quick to point out the exact same problems in online schools that they themselves are subject to, or even portray the strengths of online education as weaknesses.

But this is only natural. Traditional colleges see other forms of education as the competition. Look at the home-school debate (which also often has an online component). In spite of repeated findings that home schooling is often superior to standard classroom learning, it meets with resistance from all sides, much of it reflexive and unjustified. We see the same prejudices fostered and encouraged against online learning. And the conflict between the old and new has been fierce.

Online colleges provide a valuable service for members of the military that was not available before. And they provide it in a flexible and affordable manner. Therefore they are expanding rapidly and taking over a greater share of the education market. As the demand for education increases, what’s wrong with new and innovative ways to satisfy that demand? Even conventional colleges are including more and more online resources and options in their course offerings.

Seizing the initiative

There is no question that online education demands more motivation and drive than the classroom format, but motivation and drive are two of the primary characteristics of a successful soldier. An online student must take advantage of what time he or she can spare and resist the temptation simply to lean back during any extra time and simply go with the flow. Following a schedule takes less initiative than making one. One thing about military life that has not changed in the last few thousand years is that it can be pretty exhausting. At the same time, it is also true that the average online student is better motivated than the average classroom student. A recent peer reviewed study concludes, “Membership in the online preference group was predicted by higher self-efficacy and satisfaction, and lower task value beliefs.”11

Online college solves the problem of education while on active duty. It can be done anywhere. The price is right. It provides a head start in civilian life. It enhances a soldier’s career in the military. Yes, taking college courses while serving in the military requires initiative and dedication, but it rewards those qualities as well. Online institutions tend to be very military-friendly, and financial assistance through the military is available for both soldiers and their spouses. As with anything, one must shop carefully and check out all options. But online college classes give students in the military the flexibility made necessary by their service, more bang for their buck than traditional colleges, and the added benefit of allowing them keep up their studies wherever the armed forces may send them.

11 Artino, Anthony R., Jr., Online or Face-to-Face Learning? Exploring the Personal Factors that Predict Students’ Choice of Instructional Format, Internet and Higher Education, v. 13 #4 p. 272-276, Dec. 2010, Abstract