In the 90′s Russell wrote the first and likely most well read defense of online education. The piece, “No Significant Difference” was well written and well received. But it was Twigg’s follow up, “Beyond No Significant Difference” that was an eye-opener for some. Even back in 2001, Twigg discovered what many now know to be true. Outcomes are more easily tracked and often achieved in online classes than they are in their on-ground counter parts.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Oh, the online guy is going to tell us how great online is…but hold on. I know it’s still not the accepted, common-sense paradigm that many would hope it to be. Just this week I read an article about how Ball State faculty are highly suspicious of online education. While I feel that many faculty are simply uneducated about it and several predispositionary thoughts are actually faulty reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that online education is still seen, by many traditionalists, as the ugly duckling of academia.
So I get it. Really, I do. I hear it all the time. I don’t agree with it and believe I can vigorously and credibly argue the points, but I get it. So rather than my pushing my own biases about the importance and validity of online education, I wanted to share some other’s insights.
Two weeks ago, I attended our President’s Round Table. It was in an extremely beautiful part of South Carolina – it was one of only 4 states I had never set foot in. The conference itself was quite amazing. Not just the food or setting (although Kiawah Island is quite impressive), but the ideas, innovations, and operational issues discussed were truly inspiring. We had speakers from Harvard, Microsoft, and best selling authors talk about the trends in education, technology, and online learning which created wonderfully rich conversations that will shape the future of our business.
As well, the audience was not only ready to listen, but ready to share. It was inspiring to watch Presidents, Directors of Online Learning, Provosts, and more brainstorm for, listen to, and constructively critique ideas in and around how to best serve students. State institutions collaborated with for-profit schools who communicated with religious colleges who listened to community college leaders…it was fantastic! Again, these leaders are ready to fight the good fight!
But what was actually most amazing to me, in the midst of all of the creativity and innovation, was a simple truth that was stated by several of these school leaders. It started with one simple statement and then was reiterated several times throughout the week. It started during a panel discussion where a Director of Online Learning simply said,
“We’ve found our online numbers to be well above our on-ground counterparts. Not only have we found that the research about online courses producing and measuring better outcomes is true, but our retention and faculty survey numbers blow the face to face classes out of the water! We’re double digit points above them…”
What?!? Is that possible? Someone from the crowd actually asked him to repeat the off-the-cuff remark. But when he did, a few other Presidents expressed the same thing. Online numbers for retention, satisfaction, and test scores were significantly higher than on-ground classes teaching the same materials.
So, over the next two days, I asked people at our meals and during our breaks if they had similar experiences at their schools. Many did. Not all, but of the 30-40 leaders present, I heard at least 15 say that they had better numbers online than on-ground.
So, while some are trying desperately to explain away the research of the past two years as poor studies with bad analysis or poorly constructed tests, there is something they cannot simply dismiss…online learning works better in some contexts, with some students, with some disciplines, with some programs, and with some content, than face to face learning. Period.
Good luck and good teaching.