Ending the War Between Traditional and Online Instruction in Higher Education
The percent of learners taking online courses has exploded in recent years, and it shows no signs of abating. This is perhaps no surprise: online courses offer learners a great degree of flexibility. However, the rise of online courses has led to a war between traditional and online instruction in higher education. If you peruse the admissions materials for many online programs, you will notice how careful many are to tell you that their degree will not reveal that it was earned online, as if this were an albatross of shame. But we need to end this war for the benefit of all learners.
The first step in ending the war is improving the quality of online learning. If online courses were regarded as having comparable quality as traditional instruction, there would be no cause for conflict. But the perception that they are different is what underlies almost all of the conflict. Most instructors view online courses as an easier teaching assignment, something not worthy of their best efforts.
They may post the exact same videoed lectures and reading assignments to their campus’ LMS and believe that they have fulfilled their obligation to their online learners. As long as the classroom experience is better, the war between online and traditional education will persist. So, instructors who make their online courses just as rigorous, engaging, and novel as their traditional classes have an important role to play.
Second, universities need to stop viewing online courses as a cash cow. It is possible to deliver an online class at a lower cost than a traditional class. But as soon as the online learners are positioned as the workhorses of the institution—instead of the institution’s focal point—the stage is set to continue the war. Not only that, but disturbing questions about educational equity can arise from such a practice.
Schools should ensure that the same resources are devoted to online instruction and traditional classes. This might result in smaller class sizes, improved tech, and improved instructional materials. All of these will make a big difference in the conflict between traditional and online learning.
Universities must be prepared for the education technology of the future. This might involve the type of fundamental rethinking of the structure of a university that has not happened in hundreds of years. But it should result at the end of the war between traditional and online learning—and that will only benefit learners and the wider community.