Overcoming the Challenges to E-Learning in Higher Education

Faculty whose teaching habits were developed in a traditional classroom setting are faced with a number of challenges when first attempting to create effective e-learning courses.  Most of the challenges identified below are the result of a widespread prejudice against e-learning: that it is inherently inferior to traditional instruction because it puts distance between the learner and the instructor.  Without the close proximity of instructor to student that we find in the traditional classroom, the argument goes, learners are forced to teach themselves the course content.  Inevitably, learners will fall short of the course’s learning goals without an expert instructor to guide their acquisition of knowledge.  Therefore, traditional instruction is to be preferred whenever possible.

How did this prejudice come to be?  Any attempt to employ traditional course content, without modification, in e-learning contexts reveals the key to the origins of this prejudice. For example, the lecture—a teaching method widely employed in the traditional classroom—does not lend itself to e-learning contexts because it can easily change from a dynamic performance for a specific audience to a static recitation when recorded and uploaded to a learning management system.  The lecture becomes a less effective means of delivering course content because its character shifts as it moves to a new environment.  The fact that course content is transformed by its mode of delivery is overlooked by faculty new to e-learning and student learning suffers as a result.  When student performance suffers because of a mismatch between content and technology, the mode of delivery is blamed for the defect rather than the design of the course content.  Thus, the prejudice against e-learning stems from a poor use of the technology that makes online education possible.  The problem of how to create effective course content for online contexts is not an easy one to solve, but it certainly cannot be solved by blaming the technology. Read More …

Where Are the Graduates of University of the People?


Four years in, students are beginning to graduate from the world’s first free online university. What is their credential worth?

This seems like an interesting experiment, but the limited choice of degree plans is worrying. And the fact that the university isn’t accredited is even more worrying.

Still, I would like to know more about the graduates of this experimental institution and how they’re faring in the job market. It appears that for some of the graduates, at least, the gamble is paying off.

What’s most interesting about the university is that it is deliberately low-tech. The course materials are open source texts and the method of communication between students and professors is asynchronous, generally involving e-mail and discussion forums only. Written assignments are required, but some of the assessment for each course is provided through peer-to-peer interaction. I’d love to see what graduates think of this model of education. Do they feel like they’ve missed out on something by not attending a traditional brick-and-mortar institution? Is the free tuition enough to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction?

I’m willing to bet that the education you get is on par with the traditional face-to-face education I received, but I’d love to hear what others think. Comments are open!

Source (New York Times): Where Are the Graduates of University of the People?

Why Teaching a Humanities Course Is Harder Than It Looks

I’m teaching three humanities courses this semester and so far it’s been an interesting journey. There have been no major hiccups in the lessons I’ve given and the results of the quizzes and writing assignments I’ve assigned have been mostly positive.

However, there’s something about teaching a general humanities course that bothers me just a little bit. My field is the humanities… in a general sense. I don’t have a degree with “Humanities” printed on it, but I do have several degrees in the related areas of philosophy and literature, which counts as being qualified to teach a humanities survey course. The problem I see with offering a broad course in the humanities is that you will never be able to find an instructor who is fully qualified to teach it. Read More …

The Need for E-Learning in Higher Education

There are two major challenges confronting e-learning.

The two challenges confronting e-learning in higher education contexts are access to technology and professional development.

Despite some resistances, access to technology in the classroom has expanded rapidly in higher education, with many classrooms being outfitted with some form of technological enhancement in recent years. Televisions, DVD players, desktop computers, and projectors are all part of the makeup of the higher education classroom now and the rollout of new technologies seems to be proceeding apace.

When it comes to professional development, however, higher education is sorely out-of-date.  Despite the presence of new technologies in the classroom, many instructors are ill-equipped to use them and report rarely doing so in current research.  Resistances on the part of instructors to new technology is certainly a part of the problem, but the most pressing issue is the lack of professional development opportunities for expanding one’s knowledge and training in such technologies. Read More …

The Performance Gap in Online Education

Online education is the wave of the future. The number of students taking at least one distance education course rose to a record high of 5.4 million during the fall of 2013 and institutions of higher education are expanding their online presence to meet this increasing demand. Online education promises to revolutionize how and when we learn, providing access to college to many for the first time.

However, there are some worrying findings regarding online education that should give educators pause. Researchers have identified a performance gap between students in online courses and students in traditional courses. Xu and Jaggars (2011) found that students who took their first English or math course online were less likely than their traditional peers to make a C or better in course. The performance gap was most pronounced for younger students, male students, Black students, and students with low GPAs. Read More …