When I tell people that I am a college professor, they usually ask me what I teach. When I tell them that I teach instructional design and e-learning development, I often get a puzzled look from them. After explaining what instructional design is, the conversation usually turns to eLearning and quality.
Many times people tell me that they think that the quality of e-learning is not good. I ask them what their experience is with e-learning. I asked if they have ever taken an e-learning class or have even taught a class, or part of an online class. The answer is usually no.
What they usually tell me is that they think that e-learning is simply ”not very effective”. As an educator I am interested in how people from their opinions. When I asked them how they formed their opinion about e-learning, I discover that they have very little first-hand experience with it. Often times they will say that “I heard that it is not very good”, or that “my friend took a course and didn’t like it”. As a student and as a working professional, I have literally taken hundreds of in-person courses.Guess what? Some of them weren’t very good either. I don’t think that e-learning has a corner on the market on low-quality courses.
Sound critical thinking tells us to try to get objective information about a topic. It tells us to ask questions to get to the heart of the matter. I find it interesting that in higher education some highly educated professionals who embrace the use of critical thinking, throw it out when it comes to eLearning. For some unknown reason anecdotal information seems to be good enough for some people when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of e-learning.
Let’s face it. eLearning is not for every instructor, nor is it for every student. What I do feel confident about is that e-learning will not be going away anytime soon. At some point the “e” will be dropped from the term “e-learning” and we will simply focus on what is important….the “learning” itself.
A Poor Choice Can Be Costly
The growth of eLearning has exploded. More students than ever before earn entire degrees online. But have they made the right choice? Most people really don’t know how to assess eLearning programs. It is easy to choose the wrong program.
As someone who manages and teaches in an online graduate program I probably have some insight that most people don’t. Before you spend a lot of time and money at the wrong school, you should consider these issues.
Your Career Goals
What are your career goals? Does the program help you to meet them? Will it help you get a job or a promotion? Identify the type of job you want to have five years from now. Through your network (or through LinkedIn) find people that are doing this job. How did they get there? Does anybody have a degree from the school you are investigating? Ask employers if they hire candidates from that school.
Is the college or university accredited? Hopefully, it is accreditation by one the major six regional accreditation associations. Sorry, but these are the only ones that really count in my opinion. I had to deny admission to a young lady who graduated from a school that was accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education. She tearfully told me “they said they were accredited”. Unfortunately for her they were accredited, but it wasn’t the type of accreditation that really counts. Additionally, accreditation is awarded to the university overall and not to an individual program in most cases.
The reputation of the institution and the program is very important and can cut across many areas. For example, what do alumni say about the program? Do employers hire their graduates? What do people say about the faculty? Today with LinkedIn it is fairly easy to find people who maybe graduates of a particular college. Additionally, if an organization is hiring you can ask them if they have a history of hiring graduates from particular schools.
Program Design and Format
The format and design of the program can differ greatly in online programs. As a learner you will be spending a lot of time and money, so you want to make sure the program is a “fit” for you. Does it have synchronous, asynchronous or blended course delivery? What are the course deliverables for students? Do yjur ise pares and academic case studies, or more applied projects. I think project work has many advantages over tests and papers. Do they require a comprehensive exam or portfolio of work samples? In my opinion professional portfolios are the way to go. They can demonstrate your skills and competencies to potential employers.
Student and Career Services
If you are an adult student you probably are very interested in getting a job. Does the college have career services oriented toward working adult students? Do they have connections with employers and professional associations? Who hires their graduates? Can you actually talk to student service reps on the phone, or do they push you to search online for everything? Do they have so many students that they cannot prove adequate service?
Can you start the program and/or graduate in any semester? Or do they only accept new students in the Fall semester? Do they allow you to take any electives, or is it a lock-step program with little choice? What is their policy concerning transfer of credits?
I’ve posed a lot of questions. You can find answers to most of them by talking to current students, alumni and employers. Additionally, you can find a number of answers on the college website and using LinkedIn. Of course don’t forget the obvious. You can simply call and ask them. In the end, it is worth the time and effort to research potential schools and programs. Make the right choice. Your career may depend on it.
Change is tough. We want progress, but not change. Change often arrives before growth. While eLearning may be regarded as a positive change, others may dispute that.
What is not in dispute is the growth of eLearning. The Sloan Consortium has reported that over 7.1 million college students took an eLearning class in 2013. The Association for Talent Development (formerly American Society for Training and Development) indicates that 39% of the all training for employee in 2013 was technology-based delivery. While the growth of eLearning presents opportunities for some people, it presents many challenges for others. Most of these challenges center around the concept of change. As noted by Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, people resist change for a number of reasons. I have encountered a number of faculty members and trainers that simply hate eLearning. I believe that most of the issues relate to change.
Why do some learning professionals really dislike eLearning? Here are the top reasons why:
- eLearning Is More Work for Me– This may be true, especially at first. It takes time to learn anything. What many trainers and faculty members realize is that eLearning makes you rethink your whole approach to teaching and learning. You simply can’t lecture. Effective eLearning means that you have to redesign your course. Additionally, it may mean that you will need to learn some new technology tools.
- I Might Look Incompetent – Yes, this may be true as well. Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? You probably weren’t very successful. Now you ride a bike without even thinking about it. I remember teaching my first online course. It certainly wasn’t the best course I’ve ever taught. What I realized was that investing the time in learning online teaching skills was worth it.
- The Quality of eLearning is Poor– There are some bad courses out there. This includes both eLearning courses, as well as in-person courses. To generalize that the quality of eLearning is inferior is a false assumption. Usually when I hear this argument it really is a diversionary tactic. The real issue is that some people fear they would not be good online teachers. The “poor quality argument” is an attempt to throw people off track, rather than addressing their real issues.
- My Job May Be Threatened– Some faculty and/or trainers feel that they may lose their job if they have to teach or train online. I think it is rare that organizations force someone to teach online in a “sink or swim” situation. Most organizations offer training and opportunities for trainers/faculty to shadow some classes. Additionally, they can co-teach with an experienced faculty member before they teach an online class solo.
- Technology is Not for Me– This is a legitimate concern. eLearning relies on technology. Online learning is not for every teacher/trainer, nor is it for every student. Some people who say this have not given eLearning an honest attempt, or they didn’t receive proper training. It is amazing that when technology benefits an employee, they can learn it pretty quickly (e.g. telecommuting). Since minimum levels of technology skills are now required by many employers, I don’t think that it is unreasonable for organizations to ask trainers or faculty to teach online.
eLearning is not going away anytime soon. Learning professionals can choose to accept it or reject it. Given the growth of eLearning I believe the wise choice is to embrace it. Choosing otherwise will limit your career opportunities. So what will you choose?