17 January 2011

Online learning Isn't for Everyone

I finished up my bachelors degree as an independent and online learner. It was the late 90s, I had about 6 or so classes to take. I was living in Germany at the time and didn't see any benefit to relocating to the States to sit in a college classroom. I did it through Excelsior, which was called Regents back then, and was one of the premier accredited alternative colleges around. I took independent study courses at several major universities and two online Edtec courses at SDSU. It t took about a year. I was working as a freelance English teacher too. When it was done and I decided to go on for a masters, I was very clear that I didn't want to do it online. I had had enough of the isolation and to be honest, I didn't care all that much about the learning, but about getting the degree. I thought, and still do think it's not an optimal learning experience (but then neither was the alternative, sitting a a class of 100 students). The experience and insight from the ed tech classes made it clear that learning like this was the future for a lot of people. And I can imagine that's more the case now for a number of reasons (e.g. ever more larger classrooms, more people out of work, and retooling).

Learning independently is not the same as learning online with a class in a semester structure. I read books, wrote papers, sent them to a professor and got detailed feedback. It felt intimate. The courses were labor intensive and stressful. (then again they were graduate level courses). I utilized all the resources and chat sessions available. I printed everything. The whole online thing was completely new to me, so I was learning how to do that too. I was on a dial-up with a laptop, and there was a 9 hr timezone difference.

I googled "online learning is not for everyone" because schools that do online courses well, make sure their students know what they're getting into, like "Is Online Learning Right for You?" or "Should I take an online class?"

These reality checks prevent us and students assuming that because "everybody" uses the Net, everybody knows what to expect and is prepared learn at a distance.