Sunday, April 30, 2006

Talking with a happy online graduate

Online Education – Does it work?

This weekend was my college’s homecoming and as usual it was a great time to reconnect with old friends. I had the opportunity to have dinner with my best man and a reader from my wedding. As with any gathering of fraternity brothers we shared all the old stories and laughed to the point of depriving ourselves of life-giving oxygen.

At one point, the reader’s girlfriend mentioned she just finished her bachelors’ degree online at UMUC – University of Maryland University College. Online education is near and dear to me because of my work at and our recent partnership with the Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix. With all the time I’ve spent with our counterparts at Apollo I quizzed her about her likes and dislikes of the online learning experience. (I would have preferred if she attended UOP, but I wasn’t involved in the decision process) I have read and heard the benefits on websites and talked with education executives, but this was an opportunity to actually get a real life review. Not a quote from someone on a website. What did she say? She loved it. Why? I’ll detail the points below.

Flexibility – She’s got a full-time job and didn’t want to give that up and go back to school. She could work late at night; get ahead on her studies if she wanted.

Better value – It was cheaper then going back to a brick and mortar institution.

Avoid bad lecturers – Since there really isn’t a lecture there was no chance of getting stuck with a professor that doesn’t engage you in the subject.

Anonymity – There was no social order in the class, allowing her to fully participate. As anyone knows in the regular classroom there is plenty of room for intimidation and certain students to overpower the discussion.

I’m going to separate out the most critical point because I think it’s deserves a separate paragraph.

She felt she worked three times harder than she would have in the classroom setting because she owned her own learning.

Sure the professor creates the curriculum- but in an online setting you still have to learn the material. There are no lectures that might result in osmotic learning. While I was in business school, one professor who also taught online classes at UMUC and he said, “You can’t hide online.” Meaning- in a normal classroom there are plenty of students who make it through a class never participating. That’s not possible online because it’s measurable. The professor knows who is doing their assignments which usually include posting a certain number of times online.

Does online education work? YES, just as long as the students want to learn. This is no different then someone attending an Ivy League school or a state school. If there is a desire to succeed, online education is a powerful tool for people who can’t find a solution for the needs in conventional education systems.

Online education reputation suffers similarly to the people who don’t go to Harvard or never get a college degree. If you look at a lot of data regarding successful entrepreneurs many never went to college or ever finished. There is a cost of admission in our society; we think that Ivy League schools have a superior educational experience. Well what about the rest of the world? There seems to be a lot of highly motivated individuals in developing countries who are after our standard of living. They don’t have access to many of our institutions, yet that doesn’t stop their quest. Our society values a college degree, it’s expected. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have invested time and money in pursuing a degree who end up happier being a tradesperson. We need to provide everyone with the opportunity to arm themselves with the tools they need to pursue what they are passionate about.

I’m planning on taking an online class in the near future on a topic I’d like to learn more about. You’ll read about my experience as I take my class.

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