The Trouble with On Line Education…mis fire by NY Times op edJul 20th, 2012 | By steven_spear | Category: Featured Article, High Velocity Organizations
Mark Edmundson (”The Trouble with On Line Education,” NY Times, Friday July 20, 2012) starts with a misdirect: “How can online education ever be education of the very best sort?” and proceeds to answer his rhetorical question both by romanticizing the interactive dynamic of face to face class instruction, establishing as the norm for classroom instruction what is actually the exceptional experience, and also by mis representing as the norm, what is the worst of on line education.
First, as for replicating “education of the very best sort”: On-line education doesn’t, but it isn’t meant to. It is meant to deliver value that in-person instruction simply cannot
(and succeeds marvelously and ever better).
Population, convenience, and cost: On line education can reach many more people (some on line courses have been completed by tens of thousands), at times and places convenient to the student–not the instructor or the university, at far lower total and per unit cost than in person can ever hope to achieve.
Those factors alone mean there is great societal benefit.
True learning opportunities: on-line education need not be a “monologue,” as Professor Edmundson demeans it; it can have many aspects of experiential give and take through which learning occurs.
Thoughtful instructors can build in tests, quizzes, opportunities for self-reflection, guidance on small group discussion, exercises, and the like. Even though the instructor is not in the room, students are still wrestling with concepts and ideas–either individually or as part of a cohort engaging with the material together.
• This is precisely the design strategy incorporated by The Institute for Healthcare Improvement “Open School in its curriculum, a series of courses meant for healthcare professions students (and practicing professionals) as a supplement to their on campus education.
• Simulators and other role-playing technologies allow students to practice concepts and skills with frequency, compression, and variety and complexity of scenarios impossible in the classroom–particularly when the ratio of students to instructors is high, allowing a more certain, solid, and rapid achievement of mastery.
• On line education can be interactive, using the right technology. At the MIT Sloan School, in the Executive Education program, for instance, we are testing multiplayer, on line technology. Coming to campus means a multi-day commitment for working students. It is often impossible. Meeting as ‘avatars’ on line, we can have short, focused doses of instruction that still allow large group question and answer, breakout group discussion, and collaborative problem solving. Is it the same as being on-site? Maybe not. But often, on-site is not the alternative to on-line. On-line is the alternative to ‘not at all.’
• On-line education can be a marvelous way of presenting and practicing basic skills and conveying foundational knowledge, so that precious time with an instructor is freed for filling in the gaps or building on a solid foundation.
Long and short: the variety of technologies that allow people to be on line–text, audio, video, virtual–create opportunities for education that simply cannot be replicated in quality, affordability, or availability by traditional means. It is not in-person or on-line, as if there is a choice. It is on-line and in-person for the fortunate, or it is on-line or nothing for those with less opportunity.