This goes for the learner and the educational institution.
As a learner, a fully online program requires an inner drive, innate or learned, that isn’t an absolute necessity in face-to-face classroom programs. Fully online degree programs require a dedication to attendance, participation and individual coursework that is often bolstered in the traditional experience by requirements to physically ‘be present’ by a professor. Mental presence in the classroom is also judged by a professor. If you aren’t mentally there, a teacher will notice this and demand an active presence. Via the computer? Not so much. A learner typically needs to check in a set number of times over the course of a set number of days but, let’s be honest, those participation check-ins can be at times mindless. Thus the inner drive requirement for success in fully-immersive online learning.
As an institution, the focus is on the educational climate. Higher education appears to be struggling to recruit students now more than ever. Why? There are more options. Our nation has morphed a bit into a nation of convenience. Do we give in to the convenience factor as an inevitable be-all-end-all? Do we stand up tall, dig in our heels and insist quality over convenience? If you consider ‘The Joneses’ to be Phoenix.edu, suddenly all focus becomes ‘how do we get everything we do online’.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, I have two favorite words heard repeatedly and pervasively: lagniappe and mélange.
Lagniappe is defined as, “An extra or unexpected gift or benefit” [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lagniappe].
Mélange is defined as, “A mixture” [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/melange].
My recommendation for any institution not currently offering fully online programs is, first and foremost, take a deep breath and let the panic attack subside. My next recommendation is to pursue a little something extra, a mixture. At the end of the day, is being the next Phoenix a strategic outcome or goal of your institution? Sure we all want bankrolls, but is that your mission? Don’t lose sight of what makes your college or university inherently attractive, forest for the trees and all that jazz. Develop an infrastructure that supports technology and infuses your campus with innovation. If you already have that platform, use it. It can be baby steps and it certainly doesn’t need to be a ‘whole hog’ approach. Find your early adopters or integrative thinkers and supply them with the tools while you respectfully educate them on trends, examples of usage, successful student response, and similar. If the hybrid classes evolve into something more, something program-y, let it naturally evolve. If not, keep it flipped and engaging.
A recent article shows that online growth is slowing [http://campustechnology.com/articles/2014/01/15/report-online-enrollment-growth-slows.aspx], but still growing at a rate of 6.1%. Online learning enrollments are still surpassing that of traditional enrollments by leaps and bounds.
Now is the time to play around with flipped classrooms, lecture capture, and other hybrid offerings. Technology will continue to play a vital role in education. Although scary at first, once a faculty member successfully plays around with technology in the classroom their mindset oftentimes makes a complete 180 in reference to the importance of the online experience.
The need for those who teach will sustain. The need to attract students will sustain. A nice blend, or mélange, of tools in the classroom toolkit will attract, will engage and will educate our nation’s students and reinforce the importance of academics. If all higher education institutions dropped current goals and focus to chase after the for-profit, ‘big box’ online education providers, what happens to the traditional university experience? There is something to be said for ‘the college years’. Replacing that transformative experience for everyone with a fully-online convenience would be a true loss for future generations. Our population needs to be educated. We will never be a one-size-fits-all population. My Nola background will continue to scream ‘variety is the spice’ in education.