The Failure of Online Education at the Higher Education Level

I’ve been a staunch advocate for the change in online learning at the higher education level, because honestly it just doesn’t work.  The online learning approach that 95% of higher education institutions follow is synchronous based, which is quite different than what form of online learning exists in the corporate setting – asynchronous based.

What is synchronous based?

Synchronous based learning has always existed, especially at the education level – mainly in higher education.

  • Instructor/Professor/Whomever is teaching the online class – exists – i.e. a real person
  • Start and completion dates – the real premise of online learning, specifically WBT (web based training) is the ability to go into the course whenever you want, and as often as you want, thus there is no start or completion dates
  • Assignments/Projects/Etc. – basically engagement using the standard classroom based approach to learning.  Why do we follow an approach that has existed since the days of school house, especially in 2013?
  • Discussion boards/Forums – students must or tend to leave (depending on the requirements) discussions/comments related to an assignment/reading/project and other students must respond – often with more than a simple “yeah, I agree”. Discussion boards rocked in 1994, but are we still stuck on them in 2013?
  • The professor/instructor/whomever should read the discussion board and post their own comments – the onus is left with them to do so – many don’t.
  • Assumption that the professor/instructor/whomever will be engaged at all times. Someone who is a poor teacher/educator will not automatically change in the online learning environment. Poor is poor.
  • Office hours – come on, really? When I taught at a university and had office hours, I rarely had students come in – even if I offered to help them do better in the classroom
  • A syllabus
  • Groups – group chats, group oriented. Small group communication theory shows that you will always end up with one leader and then followers. Okay, makes sense. But if you have ever attended or been involved in a group at the university level, many times some students will not pull their own weight or even show up. Guess what? It still will apply to the online learning setting.
  • Professors/Instructors who believe that it is a brick and mortar classroom even though it is online. I know of several students – adult learners who were in a MBA program who found out that their professor had specific times when an assignment must be turned in. If they were late by one minute it was declined.
  • Failure for real engagement and interactivity and most importantly fun.  You can achieve all those things and still show value and benefit – but it never exists in synchronous based learning, because SBL isn’t set up that way.

Turning Failure to Success

Here is a novel idea. Create a course that brings in real life scenarios and interactivity for the online learner (student).  Apply the information which is learned at whatever approach so that the student can use it in the course.

People love real world because it works. Theory on the other hand, is theory.

How many times have you gone or completed a course/seminar/whatever and said to yourself, that doesn’t apply to me?  How many folks who complete a degree or take higher education classes say to themselves years later, that the information doesn’t nor did relate to what they are doing or set out to do?

I know for myself that occurred.

Let’s say you have a course in accounting. You learn the principles for that section and then the course is self-contained (asynchronous based) and all the variables and possibilities exist. The student is tasked with doing the books for a company (at whatever level) and must achieve a result of success.  Real world meets real application of information.

Let’s remove tests and assessments. What does that really tell you?

That the person knows how to memorize or guess? How does that really apply to the real world? I’d rather see them apply the information they have learned in a real life application and do well, even if it means they get to do it as often as they want then just score some points to meet whatever is set.

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