Challenging Our Assumptions about Online Learning: A Vision for the Next Generation of Online Higher Education

By Puzziferro, Maria; Shelton, Kaye | Distance Learning, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Challenging Our Assumptions about Online Learning: A Vision for the Next Generation of Online Higher Education


Puzziferro, Maria, Shelton, Kaye, Distance Learning


At many higher education institutions, traditional ones in particular, the development and advancement of online degree programs have occurred on the periphery of the academic, financial, and administrative units. For many, online learning has been marginal and slow to become a missioncritical institutional objective. As a result, it has not been fully leveraged as a strategy to increase access to higher education, improve learning outcomes, adapt the culture and values of current and future students living and navigating in a technology-complex and interconnected world, and meet enrollment goals. There are many reasons for this slow progression of online learning into the mainstream academy - some a matter of opinion, some a matter of history; however, many reasons are a matter of culture and our own assumptions about online learning.

Online education, as we know it today, is really still in the final stages of its first generation. We have made great strides in establishing online programs across public and private institutions of higher learning. But, as we are stabilizing our assumptions and policies into an established culture of online education, the world around us is changing. Whether we are ready or not, we must be thinking about the next generation of online education.

In order to build our culture of online education and integrate it within the academy, we have adopted many assumptions about various aspects of online teaching and learning. We have chosen to focus on these assumptions around the design of the online learning environment, learning theory, quality in online learning, online faculty, students, and the future of online learning. Therefore, the following questions will guide this article:

1. The online learning environment: Are our online learning environments really student-centered and interactive?

2. Learning theory: Which theories really apply to online learning and are they accurate?

3. Quality in online learning: Do we understand what quality is, and do our policies and practices support quality?

4. Online faculty: What is the real role of faculty in the online learning environment?

5. Students: Is there such a thing as a profile of the ideal online student?

6. The future of online learning: Will online learning transform the academy?

ABOUT THE ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

LEARNING IS "STUDENTAND STUDENTS ARE IN OF THEIR OWN LEARNING

This is one of the most oft-cited descripof the essential nature of online The student-centered approach online learning is applied in many conincluding learning environment marketing to students, and the to student services. However, examine who may really be in control. recent data paint an interesting picof the priorities that academic leaders in online education:

1. A recent Sloan-C survey reported that the most cited factor (64%) by academic leaders on barriers to widespread adoption of online learning was that "students need more discipline" to succeed in online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2007).

2. A 2008 survey by the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE asked academic leaders to select the top challenges posed to higher education institutions by new technologies, and these were:

a. Ready access to online facts and research increases the risk that students are graduating without foundational knowledge in some subjects (56%);

b. Potential increase in student plagiarism (51%);

c. Students will be more distractible in the classroom due to cell phone and laptop use (49%);

d. Potential increase in student cheating (48%);

e. Fragments the traditional sense of campus community (33%);

f. Too much faculty and administration time is required to adapt coursework for the online environment (19%); andlncrease in discourteous language or behavior among students toward faculty (11%) (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2008).

As we think about the concepts of learner control and student-centered learning, it is interesting that the top concerns among academic leaders are focused on lack of control over student learning (foundational, content knowledge), concerns regarding students cheating, distracted students, and what appears to be a lack of faith in students' ability to learn independently. …

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