E-Commerce Times Talkback
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When the Internet was still new and e-anything was touted as holding all the promise of tomorrow, e-learning was expected to revolutionize education. It was promoted as a way to help stretch resources on crowded campuses and to teach people who might otherwise be unable or unwilling to attend conventional institutions. That was then. Not only have some of the earliest efforts by mainstream universities to offer in-depth online programs ended in failure, but other less-ambitious endeavors that attracted an initial burst of interest have seen much flatter growth.
Unfortunately, it's the article "Online Education Flunks But New Focus May Spark Revival" that should receive the 'flunking' grade. By perpetuating the myth that 'online education failed the first time', it does its readers a disservice. The author also would have been better off delving more deeply into Diane Harley's findings and doing some additional research instead of attempting an artificial journalistic balance with often dubious and even inaccurate information.
In reality, the article commits the error all too frequent in the mainstream media: equating the dot.com failures of the late 90s with the fortunes of online education in general. Thus, for example, the article cites the failure of NYUOnline in 2001 while failing to note that its successor at NYU has enrolled hundreds of thousands of students in distance learning courses. The article also ignores the fact that millions of students in the US alone have taken online courses since the late 90s in many institutions (e.g., community colleges) in addition to the good examples cited by Harley.
While gauging the extent of online learning is not easy, it has been done. Readers interested in getting a more accurate picture of online learning in the US should look at the Sloan Consortium survey "Entering the Mainstream: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2003 and 2004" (http://www.sloan-c.org/resources/survey.asp).
Perhaps the most glaring inaccuracy in the article is the assertion that most fully online degree programs are offered by institutions owned by corporations. While the University of Phoenix is certainly one of the largest ones, there are also plenty of other large programs -- UMUC, SUNY Learning Network, Illinois Online Network to name a few -- offered by academic institutions. The Sloan report data tells a different story, one backed up by more extensive research.
Similarly, the assertion that "educators are discovering that full-scale e-learning works best for older students" is still debatable at best, even though it is commonly held. The article would have been far more interesting and pertinent if it had explored Harley's comments that "'there is increasing demand' for [undergrad] online courses and the flexibility to do course work remotely." It is more likely that the future story lies in that direction rather than in re-hashing an old 'urban legend' about how online learning 'flunked' in its first go-round. Here's hoping that the next story about online learning to appear in this space more accurately reflects its actual evolution in the US and elsewhere...
Good article on the continuing maturity of the online education market. However, just wanted to clear up a point made by Mr. de Aenille - he mentions NYUonline, New York University's former 'for-profit' venture which folded in 2001. Many people are unaware though of NYU's long and successful history as a pioneer in distance learning.
NYU's adult education arm - the School of Continuing and Professional Studies - began its Virtual College in 1992, which has offered both degree and nondegree content to almost 10,000 enrollees since '98. These include several hundreds who've gone through NYU SCPS's well regarded Master's in Management & Systems degree program.
AND just this past month, NYU announced it would be offering its first wholly online undergraduate degrees, for adult students. The new program is called NYU Online (www.scps.nyu.edu/nyuonline)- yes, same name, but this is an in-house program within the University proper.
Thanks, Ken Brown