"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Purpose of Online Education

Why watch Sesame Street when there is an adult in the house ready and able to introduce the alphabet and numbers to a toddler? If a country has resources and manpower to educate its children, why would one put computer monitors and keyboards on sidewalks so that strangers can enlighten the children on the street? If one has the opportunity and resources to attend school face-to-face with an instructor, why would one choose distance education? These are indeed similar questions. All refer to an option that can be best characterized as "better than nothing". Sadly, we often lose sight of what distance education really means. Sometimes, we confuse it with the "next best thing in education". It is not. It should be the last option.

Distance education in the US, for example, is one way to improve the educational attainment of adults. A significant number of Americans do not have education beyond K-12. Distance education offers the flexibility. This is important since the target customer is usually employed or managing a household. Family and work obligations prevent adults from pursuing higher education. This predicament is different from those of school dropouts. Distance education requires motivation on the part of the student. Individuals who could possibly benefit from online education are those who want to pursue higher education but because of responsibilities and schedule cannot attend classes in traditional schools.

In this light, it is useful to browse through some of the data recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics. The following figures are copied from the report entitled "Learning at a Distance: Undergraduate Enrollment in Distance Education Courses and Degree Programs".

First, participation in distance education courses has grown:


The increase in participation comes mainly from adults, as shown in the following figure:


Those who have family responsibilities are also participating more in distance education.


Likewise, those who have work responsibilities also outnumber those who are not employed in distance education programs.


In terms of fields, most degree seekers in distance education are in computer science and business.


It is important to keep all of these in mind when we look at distance education. It is a way to reach those who have difficulty meeting the schedule requirements of a traditional school. It is not the disruptive innovation that will change higher education....



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