The concept of Online Education is undeniably attractive.
Schooling from home, in theory, allows for people to complete courses on their own time, from accredited universities, while balancing other obligations that prevent commutes and in-person lectures from being practical. But is it time for Online Education to transcend this niche and become integrated as a vital staple in the paradigm shift that the education system is currently?Â Systemically, there are some incredible advantages.
The absence of tangible learning materials certainly takes down the cost of these courses, which has its own appeal. But in terms of class structure and presentation, there is a standardization that prevents variation. In other words, the manner in which content is presented by the facilitators is consistent and can be viewed objectively by the facilitator. The same materials are available to the same degree for each user.
There is also something to be said about anonymity. Because users arenâ€™t directly interacting with one another in person, there is less pressure on performance. Tom Kuhlmann, in his article â€œWhy is E-learning so Effective?â€Â from Artiulate.com, describes this as the â€œfreedom to failâ€. Though it seems silly to list the ability to fail without pressure as a positive, it is indicative of the capability for personalization that e-learning permits.
Finally, the most important part of online learning is the peer-to-peer connection and existence of community. Online learning encourages collaboration and sharing, while subsequently marginalizing the role of the facilitator and placing the emphasis on communal learning via discovery and debate. Structurally, this is a significant change as it alters the â€˜top-downâ€™ approach of knowledge building in which the facilitator is the ultimate source of knowledge. If anything, it turns the instructor into merely a presenter, and the onus is on the students to develop ideas outside of the content.
At first glance, this seems like the ideal learning environment. But like most innovations that have emerged through the development of the online realm, excitement over potential undermines critical analysis.
While there are diminished costs with Online Learning, there is a big one that seems to be overlooked: the computer. Sure, this seems nit-picky, but there are legitimately worrisome implications of the technology. Primarily, it is a symbol of middle-class luxury and suggests that online learning is exclusionary to lower-income students. This assumption is dangerous as it starts to indicate higher learning as an elitist practice, instead of openly available to everyone, regardless of class divides.
Of course, the obvious retort is the availability of free-to-use computing, via a local library. Sure, this is an option, but then much of the benefit in terms of time management is lost, as the student is now limited to the whim of the libraryâ€™s hours, lack of privacy, and commute time.
In terms of anonymity and community, Online Education undoubtedly provides both, but this risks the voice of the student. Online Education is very unforgiving in accommodating for loss of engagement (even for unseen circumstance), the conversation continues and the users that are most actively participant are the most heard. Furthermore, the facilitator can risk loss of order if the conversation doesnâ€™t follow standard debate models with call and response. The group mentality, while it exists via the sharing, doesnâ€™t exist in terms of meaningful, human connection and interaction. There is a diminished sense of camaraderie and teamwork and the emphasis on the individual participation. Essentially, the process can become undemocratic, which defeats much of the purpose of online education.
On that note, Online Education demands self-motivated and specific learner types. This may have its place in post-secondary learning, but integration into a high school format may work negatively. Because the interface demands that users willfully participate, those who are uninterested, or easily distracted, may refrain from engagement. Of course, in Online Education, the accountability shifts from the instructor to the student, but that assumes willing participants (which many high school students, regrettably, are not).
While this is also a call towards accessibility of technology, it demonstrates that Online Education doesnâ€™t account for the wide variety of learning styles. A simple example is that of a tactile learner who is bombarded with exclusively visual and auditory examples. The retention isnâ€™t the same and is detrimental for that specific learner, with very little capacity for accessible assistance from the facilitator.
Despite these flaws, there are some benefits to Online Education, but the excitability of its pundits is negligible. Online Education has its place, but it doesnâ€™t appear that right now, if ever, is the time to integrate it as the most effective way to educate youth.
Image from Skill Guru