Let’s look at some ways of thinking about online versus traditional education to see where we have been and where we could be going. You might enjoy a related read at The Market Is Sending a Message About Modalities (graphic comes from this site.)
Ways of looking at online and traditional learning
Those who have moved from traditional to online teaching know the warnings of the past – students cannot learn properly online, teachers cannot teach properly online, online will not last.
We have found that online is here to stay, but let’s look at why. The reason is that for some students, online is the only modality that lets them go to college. Of course, we can compare what is best for the learning process while we keep in mind that online is not meant to replace traditional. Each modality has its benefits.
We could best serve students by asking what works best for each modality. If we are working, for example, with veterans, how do we best serve veterans when they are deployed. A traditional classroom may not work best for this student. The same is true for the single parent who does not have transportation and would benefit from online classes.
• When we judge quality, let’s look at the idea of meeting the needs of the student. Online can provide the best quality. It could be the only alternative that meets the needs of the student.
• A practical and useful approach would be to research how to improve both the online and traditional learning experience. Each modality serves a population and purpose.
• Let’s figure out what works best for each instead of having a focus on which is better.
The market is sending a message
Alternative modalities for education have emerged due to student demands and technology options. The reason for the alternatives is market driven. The reality is that institutions must cover costs, attract students, and think about the bottom line.
Since students want options in education, those institutions that fail to respond could fail. Not all schools must be totally online, but all schools should tap into technology options if they want to respond to the requests of students. As an example, students now use the Web to get immediate information access. They do not just wait for class to start. Schools should acknowledge this.
Schools should not ask whether they should respond, but they should ask how best they can respond. For example, in the workplace webinars are popular. Why should schools insist on face to face? Market forces are influencing schools to respond and adapt. A blended approach in education can better prepare students to join the workforce.
• We currently see a service economy, so education should respond to this as education also moves to provide alternative modalities.
• Education should deliver high quality products and outstanding infrastructure.
Access, education, and online
When we think about online, we should consider that when online was first developed it reflected what students wanted. Today, we see students choosing to go online or traditional based on practical decisions of which option is even possible to a student. Online provides access and is a primary goal with other goals being convenience and flexibility.
Students needs determine how a student evaluates a program and its quality, at least in part. If a student prefers online, their evaluation of an online program reflects this preference. If a student prefers a traditional approach, that student evaluates a traditional program accordingly. Both online and traditional are good options, depending on the preference of the student and a bit like comparing apples and oranges.
• To evaluate online versus traditional, we need to think of how the two options fit the needs of the student. To eliminate online options would not make those students go to traditional programs.
• Online could be their only option.
• When we run studies comparing the two, we should take into account differences in expectations and culture.
Looking at a market-based approach can help us with evaluation and movement in the future. We can look at how education is a market that is changing and maturing to fit the technology that is available and what students expect.
By Jeanette Evans and Charles Dull