Future Fridays: Online Learning

The alliteration continues. I’m hoping to use this day to think about the future of education at-large as well as future projects and approaches I might try. Today, I’m thinking about online learning.

There will be renewed emphasis on online learning at my institution in the coming years. The School of Education in which I work has a department dedicated to extension education that is largely focused on online approaches. Although I am an online learning skeptic, I haven’t dismissed the possibility. Indeed, I helped secure funding for a recently completed project to create online modules to deliver content related to energy throughout my state. We have now submitted a follow-up funding request to expand these modules to include energy-related careers.

These efforts have been successful as far as generating funding and income for the institution, but I remain skeptical about how effective such approaches are for learning. Most studies that compare online to face-to-face learning compare online approaches to traditional teaching approaches (e.g. Lecture). I’m not surprised that online learning is just as effective as lecture-based approaches. Yet, the fact that online is not better than lecture-based approaches ought to be cause for concern because there are approaches that result in demonstrably better learning than lecture. 

While it may be easy to dismiss online learning, the technophilic side of me wants to hope online education could work. I like the prospect of increased access to education. However, I am skeptical that online makes something more accessible except for in extreme cases. Instead, I suspect cost is the greatest barrier. 

Given these points, I am left wondering how to transfer all that we know about “best practice” to the online environment. A colleague and I have talked about creating an online course for science. We often wonder how to do the important concrete representations through an online medium.  We have some ideas, but at some point we are going to have to try them. 

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