Across the country, distance education continues to grow year after year (Allen & Seaman, 2017). Students across many different institutions are starting to move from traditional face to face courses and taking at least one online course. This shift is likely due to the flexibility that online courses offer. Students can complete courses anywhere there is an internet connection, on their own time, and, in some cases, at their own speed. This opens the door to education opportunities that some students may not have had in the past.
As a student, I have taken several online courses. My experiences came from the community college level, during the summer, while I was completing my general education credit for my bachelor’s degree (less expressive alternative to the public 4-year institution I was getting my bachelor’s degree at). For me, this was a great alternative. I was able to work during the summer and take classes. However, I would not have traded my traditional face to face (F2F) courses for the online courses. For starters, I never felt the online courses were as good as the F2F ones. Every online course I took was the same – read a chapter, take a quiz, complete a blog post about the readings, reply to 2 people’s post, and maybe watch a video if we were lucky. The courses seemed more like a “copy and paste” format that barely scratched the surface of the material in the course. In my F2F courses, there were discussions, in class activities, experiential learning taking place, and a social community I just didn’t get with online courses.
One assumption gaining popularity with instructors is what works in F2F classes will also work in online courses. All you have to do is take the F2F class and make it digital. But is this the best approach? For some instructors, this may not seem to be a problem. Without recognizing it, this could be detrimental. This issue lies in the approach they are taking. By looking at the course in isolation, or really the idea of taking a class and making it online, they are neglecting the many other components within the system (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Let’s say the instructor starts building the course. What instructional media will they include? Well that depends on what content is being taught, who is it being taught to, what type of interaction does the instructor want, how is the learning environment set up, what about funding, who’s going to manage the online course, the list could go on. The point is that there are many different components of a distance course that need to be considered to be successful. In the end, the F2F course and the online course may have the same goals and learning outcomes but be designed and delivered differently based on the students’ needs and the learning environment. The best way to determine the effectiveness is by evaluating student learning through various assessments.
Allen, I. E. & Seaman, J. (2017). Digital learning compass: Distance education enrollment report 2017. Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET.
Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.