Monday, July 23, 2012

Buyer Beware: The Drawbacks of an Online Education Programs

The internet is steadily becoming integrated into every aspect of our lives, including the educational experience. Though the quality of online schooling options is expanding, it still may have its drawbacks, however. Today’s post, written by Linda Zabriske of www.onlinegraduateprograms.com, will tackle this hot topic.


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Buyer Beware: The Drawbacks of an Online Education Programs

Like it or not, online learning, including masters and doctorates through distance learning as well as supplementary certification programs,  are becoming more and more popular choice for all student demographics. But many hypothesize that this rapid growth in popularity may not entirely beneficial to American society and the future of the American education system.  

Online colleges enable students to potentially receive higher education at a cheaper rate and from a more convenient location, their home.  However, there is a significant trade-off at play here that has become a cyst on the reputation of online colleges: the students themselves.  Studies have shown that students from online colleges have a lower graduation rate and are less likely to succeed in finding a job than students from brick-and-mortar colleges.

The reasons for this are explored in the study Barriers to Learning in Distance Education. The author, Jill M. Galusha, explains that “the term distance learning has been applied to many instructional methods: however, its primary distinction is that the teacher and the learner are separate in space and possibly time.”  The lack of physical presence of professors, lecturers, classmates and the general air of a college campus appears to be the most dire of problems for those taking online classes.  

The negative effects of this dichotomy between online college graduates and regular college graduates can be seen and, indeed, is well-documented.  In his article Distance Learning: Promises, Problems, and Possibilities, Doug Valentine examines online colleges’ deleterious effects on society.  He writes, “[P]roblems include the quality of instruction, hidden costs, misuse of technology, and the attitudes of instructors, students, and administrators.  Each one of these has an effect on the overall quality of distance learning as a product.”  The barriers facing graduates from online colleges with a poor reputation are simple: employers generally don’t respect online colleges.  Given the choice between two business graduates, one from a regular college and the other from an online college, most employers will prefer the former, simply because it is implied that the student has received a more rigorous college education.  

However, there is a silver lining to these problems: the increasing enrollment of students into online colleges.  The author of the previous study also writes, “Despite the need for improvement, the future of distance learning seems bright.  Increasing numbers of students enrolling in distance learning classes underscore the need for comprehensive and thoughtful evolution of distance education if it is to become the educational model of the future.”  This means that in order to accommodate the growing number of online college students, everyone, including the ones who operate online colleges for profit, will make more of an effort to fix many of the problems of online colleges.

In the meantime, one solution that would help everyone is to blend online and regular colleges.  One popular form of this endeavor is to offer distance learning classes at each brick-and-mortar college.  In a recent study, Hope M. Jordan explores the positives of blended education, and the outlook is good.  “The blended concept of learning is highly consistent with the three areas of change identified in the introduction – thinking less about delivering instruction and more about producing learning, reaching out to students through distance education technologies, and promoting a strong sense of community among learners.”  

In short, if the methods of online colleges can be modified and ameliorated, their reputation will surely improve, which can only help graduates from such colleges seek employment.
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