Why Online Education? | Learning Innovation

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If there is one windmill that I’ve been tilting at across my higher ed career, it has been to leverage online education to advance learning for all students.

The idea is simple. Even if not a significant part of a school’s educational offerings, online education can have a catalytic effect of improving teaching and learning across an institution. To use a different and topical metaphor: online education is like a vaccine that strengthens the entire institutional body of teaching and learning.

Is online education always good for advancing (all) student learning? Not in cases where schools outsource core competencies to OPMs such as instructional design.

Online education is beneficial to schools because it opens up a window to bring in research-based pedagogical practices to course development, instruction, and learner-support. Online education has been the Trojan horse that we’ve smuggled learning science into curricular development and course design.

Faculty who work with instructional designers to plan, design, and execute an online course will bring that experience to their face-to-face courses. Online education is a platform from which research-based pedagogical advances can be disseminated across all teaching and learning venues. These best practices include universal design, backward design, assessment for learning (formative assessment), student/learner-centric design, and the prioritization of learner engagement and instructor presence.

So if all this is true – if online education is an effective mechanism to advance teaching and learning across the institution – what happens when schools fail to invest in online learning?

What happens when online learning does not rise to a critical strategic priority?

What is the cost to student learning when schools outsource core competencies – such as instructional design – or allow online programs to be opportunistic and fragmented rather than strategic?

If online education is a powerful force in advancing teaching and learning, why do we see so much variation across higher ed into the degree of attention and investment that senior institutional leadership gives it?

The unavoidable answer to all of these questions about failures to push online education as a lever to improve teaching and learning is that much of the blame for any failures or shortcomings rests squarely on us – the online learning community.

We (and here I include myself) have not done nearly enough to make the case that online education is strategic from a learning perspective. We have let the narrative about online education center too much around revenue generation and not enough around (all student) learning. We have been inconsistent and ineffective in persuading key institutional leadership and faculty stakeholders that investing in online education is essential for moving the learning ball forward across our campuses.

We need to do better.

This indictment of our online learning community is, of course, not fair. At many institutions, local online learning leaders have succeeded in aligning the work of growing investments in online programs with a commitment to advance student learning. The link between online education and cross-institutional student learning is clear and explicit on numerous campuses.

We need to uncover and celebrate those instances and do whatever we can as a community to replicate those successes. As a starting place, I hope we can engage in a broader conversation that links and integrates online education to advancing teaching and learning for all our students.

How might we change the online education narrative away from revenue generation and towards learning?



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