by Tina Hovekamp, Library
The online teaching environment is experiencing a tremendous growth spurt, just like my oldest teen son! Rapid increase in online enrollment is clear even in our own college which currently offers more than 130 sections of online courses for the 2009-10 academic year. This is a 26% increase over the number of COCC online offerings in the previous year and a 130% increase of total online COCC offerings just a few years ago, in 2006-07. Quite impressive, isn’t it?
But COCC is only following the national trends. According to a recent article in Campus Technology, data gathered by The Ambient Insight research firm indicates that “[n]early 12 million post-secondary students in the United States take some or all of their classes online right now. But this number will skyrocket to more than 22 million in the next five years …” Moreover, according to this study’s forecast, by 2014 there will be 5.14 million students nationwide who will take all of their classes in a real classroom compared to 18.65 million who will take at least one of their courses online.
One of the explanations for such a rate of growth is the economic recession we are experiencing which has increased not only overall enrollments in schools of higher education (including COCC) but also the demand for more online instruction for people who wish to reenter the workforce but need to update their skills in a more flexible learning environment. From the schools’ perspective, online education can also help with the pressures of shrinking budgets and high teaching demands in a relatively inexpensive way. According to the most recent Sloan Survey of Online Learning report, “50 percent of institutions with online education programs have seen their institutional budgets decrease, compared to 25 percent that have seen their budgets increase.”
And who says the swine flu scare this year did not also affect our modes of teaching? A U.S. News & World Report article, “Study: Online Education Continues Its Meteoric Growth,” reports that fears of a possible H1N1 outbreak forced many colleges to develop contingency plans substituting online courses for regular classes. Basically, unless schools are dealing with a web virus, “When you have an online plan in place, classes go on as usual.”
But beyond national and local trends, there is also this debate in everybody’s mind on overall quality: is online instruction as effective as campus instruction providing similar quality learning experiences to the students? In 2009, the US Deprtment of Education released a report with a focus on the effectiveness of online education. Here are three of the findings that caught my attention:
- Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
- Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
- Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.
The report cautions that despite what appears to be strong support for online learning, there is no evidence that online learning is superior to classroom learning. However, the authors of the study take the extra step to note that online learning may give students the advantage of an “expansion of learning time” that face-to-face instruction does not allow as readily within traditional class time limits.
In his commentary of this latest government report Dr. Pyke, Center for Teaching & Learning, UNC Charlotte, states, “It’s not the medium that makes online learning better but the thoughtful, purposeful, and intentional instructional design decisions used to create the courses (a combination of time spent, curriculum, and pedagogy, according to the report)”
Well, that’s an argument hard to disagree with. However, considering the importance and pressure of market trends for more online instruction, differences in learning in the online versus face-to-face environment will probably continue to be an area of debate as well as study.
If you are an instructor of online courses or a student who has taken online courses, what do you think about your experience? (use the “comment” link below to add your thoughts)?