July 23, 2013

Is online learning enough?

When I was in high school and first began the process of looking at colleges, I noticed that every school I visited or read about was emphasizing to me how they were different from just a normal school.

How they were going to provide me with an education that wasn’t “traditional” or “old-fashioned”. How they, instead, were going to focus on things like practical experience and personalized attention and innovative courses. Each school had their own spin on this, but it was present everywhere—no school, it was clear, wanted to be just a school anymore.

If universities feel the need to market this so heavily, then clearly, people’s attitudes about and expectations of a university experience are shifting, and if universities are following through on these shiny new promises, then higher education itself actually is changing, if slowly. But just how will it change, and how much should it?

This article, published earlier this month, posits that perhaps higher education should be moving toward utilizing online learning more, stating that in some cases online classrooms can be even more personalized and effective than typical large lecture classes. According to this article, technology should be better integrated into college classrooms through online learning, especially during the first two years of a typical four-year degree.

While there’s certainly a larger role for technology to play in education right now, I’m hesitant to say that I think online learning is the best way to move ahead. I do agree that more college-level learning should take place outside of the classroom, but I don’t think that moving coursework to the Internet is going to solve the problem; instead, these students need to move to the world. This article and I are more on the same page when it states that “classwork could be more heavily combined with internships or service-learning experiences”.

Halfway through my undergraduate career, I feel strongly that experience—employment, volunteering, student organizations, research projects, or anything else meaningful to a student—is a much-needed supplement to today’s students’ courses. Spending more time in front of a screen in an online class isn’t going to fix the problems with today’s education system; spending more time in the real world is. I give a lot of thought as to how I’m going to gain the skills I want to have once I graduate. And online learning isn’t the answer.

Kevin Carey, the director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, was quoted in the aforementioned article saying, “What we can do is try to do a much better job of using these new technological tools that we have ... to have a combination of human touch and a technological learning environment that is again much better than what people are getting.” This much, I can certainly agree with, particularly the bit about the “human touch”. Introducing more online classes isn’t going to provide that touch, though. Real world experience is.

By Jen Kelso

Jen Kelso is earning bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies, while simultaneously exercising her creative side. She loves a great story, environmental sustainability innovations, spending time in bookstores, the smell and feel of good earthy dirt, writing, exploring new places, learning about ecology, staying up all night, and any way that she can connect these interests. Though she is still in the process of figuring out how she’s going to combine all of this to make the world a better place, she has a feeling she’s getting closer to the answer.

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