Thursday, August 30, 2007

LSC Online - Ten Years and Counting

I'm going to begin writing a somewhat sporadic series of posts related to lessons learned (and that sort of junk) from the past ten years of e-learning at Lake Superior College. Our first online class was delivered to eight Cell Biology students during the winter quarter of the 1997-98 academic year. That was the only online class offered that first year.

In our tenth year of e-learning we taught 304 sections of online classes with a total of 7,850 student enrollments. Needless to say, some things have changed over the years.

I remember when I was still a faculty member and e-learning was just beginning to take shape. There were many doom-and-gloom stories out there about how the sky was falling in higher ed because of this online learning thing. I clearly remember sitting in an auditorium at Normandale Community College listening to many people grouse about all the fears related to e-learning. Some of the most common (or maybe the most popular) fears went something like this:

  • "When anyone in the world can take their College Composition course from Harvard, why on earth would they take it from us instead?" (as if Harvard was going to start admitting all comers)
  • "There will be one best online course in every subject, for example American History. Why would anyone want to take an online history course from another school that wasn't the best?" (as if quality is the driving decision point for students)
  • "There will be one best online teacher for Political Science courses. Why would anyone want to take the course from a lesser instructor?" (as if we don't almost always settle for something less than the best)
All of these fears were just different ways of expressing the same concern - namely that e-learning was going to change the way instruction is delivered and that everyone will end up in one big class because the learners (consumers) will only want the best when the best is easy to get.

Ten years down the road I have not seen any evidence that these fears had any basis in reality. At LSC we still teach class sections that have the same number of maximum students (enrollment caps) on-line as they do on-ground. We still have some really great teachers and some who are somewhat less than that. We still have lots of students who come to our school even though they now have easyaccess to many other schools (at least easier than it used to be).

Ten years down the road and I think that students (consumers of education) still know less about what they're buying with their education dollars than in any other purchasing decision that they make. They don't all flock to the best online teacher because no one knows much about who that is ( not withstanding). They don't all flock to the best school that offers online degrees because no one knows much about who that is either. Although there is some shopping around that occurs, most students don't pick up one class here, one class there and try to piecemeal their way to a degree (partially because we don't make it easy for them to do so, and partially because that just never occurs to them).

I'm not saying that none of the original fears about e-learning have come true, I'm just saying that most of the ones I can remember have turned out to be totally unfounded. You can learn a lot in ten years. More later.

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