Saturday, October 17, 2015

Online or Not Online: The Question Persists

I had just left a Distance Learning committee meeting this week when Elizabeth Pitt, librarian, passed along a “Fast Fact” from College and Research News, October 2015. It summarizes the main findings of a Gallup poll commissioned by Inside Higher Ed last year that surveyed 2,799 faculty members and 288 academic technology administrators.

According to the summary, “A majority of faculty members with online teaching experience say those courses produce results inferior to in-person courses. They say most online courses lack meaningful student-teacher interaction. Only about one-quarter of faculty respondents (26 percent) say online courses can produce results equal to in-person courses.What should we make of these results?  

If even experienced online teachers believe by such a large margin that online education is inferior to face-to-face learning, should we question whether our efforts here at Lincoln to put together a distance education plan—the purpose of the DL committee meeting I had attended—are warranted?  At most should we be planning distance learning options only for those populations we cannot feasibly meet in person?  

Or is that majority opinion simply skepticism without foundation, our human preference for what has always been and our innate distrust of the new?  Do you come down on the side of the studies that have shown no significant correlation between mode of delivery and learning outcomes? 

So your question for today (come on, you know that you need to take a break from thinking about midterms) is a simple yes/no one.  Do you personally believe that online teaching and learning—assuming the necessary technology, course design, and instructional expertise—can be as effective as classroom-based instruction?  (Of course if you have any additional energy, I would love to hear the reasoning behind your answer, whichever side of the issue you champion.)


  1. If the question is whether online teaching and learning CAN be as effective as classroom-based instruction, the answer, I believe, is "Yes." It depends on what you do with it and who the teachers and students are. If, on the other hand, the question is whether it WILL be as effective, only time will tell and it depends on what we do with it and how we do it. However, I do not think the main reason most colleges and universities get involved with online teaching and learning has much to do with effectiveness; but, rather, innovation, experimentation, exploration, and competition or "keeping up with the Joneses" or the fear of being left behind in a technological age.

    Safro Kwame

  2. Kwame, you raise a number of good issues. I would agree with them all. (This may be a first...) A lot of interest in technology is a "jump on the bandwagon" reflex, I think. More important than the motive for teaching, with technology though, is the question of whether it can be as effective as f2f instruction. It is, as you say, a question of getting the right teacher together with the right student around the right subject. I am hoping more research will come out addressing those issues both separately and as an interacting whole.