Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Exploring the Myths about Online Education in Information Systems

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Exploring the Myths about Online Education in Information Systems

Article excerpt


The proliferation of the Internet has spawned an increased offering of online courses by many educational institutions. This pattern is quite noticeable among many Business Schools in the United States, which are increasingly leaning toward offering online programs, especially in the area of Information Systems (IS) where courses have been in very high demand (Piccoli, Ahmad, & Ives, 2001). What is still unknown, however, is whether courses offered in this domain can measure up to the traditional information systems education one can receive by attending a "brick and mortar" institution, and how online education can be made as effective as possible.

There are two distinctly opposing beliefs regarding these issues. To some, computers and related technologies signal greater control and may even be seen as possessing magical qualities (Kaarst-Brown & Robey, 1999) that could serve as a panacea for what ails education. For others, however, the enabling Information Technology (IT) still remains part of the unknown (Kaarst-Brown & Robey, 1999) and, therefore, technological mediation of the fundamental socialization process of education, especially when such education pertains to information technology and its applications, warrants careful investigation (Rudestam & Schoenholtz-Read, 2002). The uneasiness felt by those adopting the latter viewpoint is reflected in the words of an online instructor for IS courses who stated, "We have the awkward position of teaching technology through technology." We feel that the time is ripe to critically examine the merits and underlying assumptions driving the justification, design, and delivery of such courses, and, as a community, to reflect on the pedagogical, administrative, economic, and societal implications of online IS education.

In particular, we discern seven myths from the literature on online education. We are not aware of any previous effort by academic scholars to infer and articulate myths regarding on-line education. While we do not claim that the seven myths offered are comprehensive in scope, we feel that they do provide a good starting point to critically understand this emergent form of education. We examine these seven myths in a context consisting of a reasonably varied set of IS courses, instructors, and students in a US university, with a solid reputation as a brick and mortar institution, making its forays into the realm of web-based distance degree programs.

The State of Online Education in General

According to the PBS website (, distance learning "has been around since the advent of the written language." The "modern history" of distance education can be traced to the 1800's, when it was referred to as "correspondence study" with study material and assignments being transferred through the postal service. The successful introduction of audiovisual technologies in the early 1900s "generated a renewed interest" in distance education (Reiser, 1987), and with the advent of the Internet, distance education enabled by web-based technologies has become enormously popular, both among providers and consumers of education (Aggarwal & Bento, 2000; Belanger & Jordan, 2000). Given the vast scope of distance education, and recognizing the current technological trends associated with this form of education, we wish to focus the discussion in this paper to internet-based distance education, also referred to as online education. For the purpose of this paper, we define online education as coursework delivered to students who are geographically separated from the instructor(s) and who use information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly the Internet, for interactions (Rudestam & Schoenholtz-Read 2002).

Reports from IDC research and Bersin and Associates estimate that worldwide spending on online continuing education exceeded the 9 billion US Dollar mark in 2003 and grew to between $12 and 14 billion US Dollars in 2004. …

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