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The question of whether online learning represents an effective way to educate and train has been answered. It’s clear that e-learning works for both institutions of higher learning and for corporations and other organizations by providing a convenient alternative, or supplement, to face-to-face learning.
Now the challenge has become one of quality. It’s time for a renewed focus on upgrading the quality level of online learning. Some schools and organizations relied on instructors and self-taught course designers for their initial online offerings to students. These do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions often failed to leverage the strengths of online for engagement, interactivity, and focused instruction.
Students have noticed. A report from Eduventures, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, has found that student interest in a virtual academic experience has plateaued, and that quality concerns are part of that leveling off of interest.
Eduventures reported that there has been “only a small bump over the last six years in the percentage of adult students who said online college is equal in quality to campus learning,” according to insidehighered.com.
The report also notes the growing competitiveness of the online education market with the arrival of massive open online courses (MOOCS) and new, innovative venture-backed entrants. Learners have many more options today—from both academic and non-academic players.
The quality challenge
We’re convinced that future success in online learning means developing courses and simulations that students will see as clearly better in quality than current offerings. That’s the quality challenge those of us creating online courses and simulations need to address.
Courses need to engage and encourage critical thinking (where we think narrative learning is key). They should make use of video, interactivity, and cloud-based tools, and empower instructors to coach and guide (rather than simply present). They should address different learning styles, and be accessible to all. Their content should flex to the new smartphone and mobile devices, and should incorporate external resources whenever appropriate.
When we design and develop online learning at MindEdge, we keep these factors in mind. We also recognize that a continuous improvement process is vital because the technology and platforms learners uses remains in a state of flux. For example, our new Online College Courses (OCC) have been designed to fit on the smaller screens of the next wave of smartphones and mobile devices, and elements (games, exercises) in these courses will automatically adapt to a more limited viewing canvas.
Raising the quality level of online learning isn’t a one-time effort. It means listening to learners, our academic and corporate partners, and focusing on what works and what enhancements we should make. The educator John W. Gardner once said: “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” We agree. So we’ll meet the challenge of quality by doing our best to make the ordinary, extraordinary.
Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Babson College, and Boston University.
Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders