For the editor:
The shift to online learning makes higher education more flexible and personalized so that it caters to all learners, regardless of their circumstances, wherever they are. Especially for students for whom existing pathways have been inaccessible, the ability to receive an education from anywhere in the world, on their own schedule, can be transformative.
Yet, as Susan D’Agostino recently reported in her article, University of California system prohibits fully online degrees, the University of California system decided to remain frozen in the past. After discovering a loophole that could allow enterprising students to graduate without ever setting foot on campus, UC now requires undergraduates to earn a minimum of six course credits per term (or semester) for three terms (or two semesters) in courses where at least half of the instruction is given in person on campus. By “closing this loophole,” the Senate Academic Committee inadvertently missed an opportunity to learn more about the needs of the contemporary student and how more flexible pathways could expand access, improve quality, and achieve to better results.
D’Agostino notes that colleges tend to design experiences that align with their values and target specific student populations. By preventing students from taking full advantage of technology-enabled learning, the University of California Academic Senate rejects current and future realities and propagates the perception that the university is reserved for a select few.
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Such a decision highlights a surprising disregard for demographic changes and technological advances that could make higher education much more accessible. Today, 85% of undergraduate students are considered post-traditionaleg: often over 25, from low-income backgrounds, working at least part-time, paying for their education independently and/or responsible for looking after children or other family members. While the benefits of online learning extend to all students, the flexibility offered by online learning can make all the difference for adult learners who shouldn’t have to choose between the ability to earn a living , to care for a loved one, or to earn a degree that could transform their lives and those of their families.
It is equally disconcerting that a system comprising 10 institutions known to be at the forefront of learning and knowledge seems to base its decision on personal preferences and outdated, easily debunked information. Indeed, one of the most common misconceptions about online learning is that it equates to what many students experienced at the start of the pandemic, when in-person institutions abruptly shifted to teaching. emergency remote. On the contrary, quality online learning is deliberately designed for the virtual environment, relying on digital tools that have been strategically selected and in which teachers have received sufficient training. It’s the deliberate design – not the learning modality – that ultimately makes the difference. Even the Socratic Way approach to learning, admittedly most easily done in person, is possible through intentional virtual design.
Technology-enabled learning has a head start, however, in that professors have many more tools to improve the quality of their lessons and tailor them to the unique needs of their students. Drawing on best practices discovered in learning and the social sciences, innovations in EdTech enable professors to leverage diverse media and content sources, leverage motivational techniques, and engage their students in a way that would be difficult to replicate in person at scale via virtual labs, peer-to-peer interaction and practice environments. Readily available data on how students interact with learning resources also enables faculty to adapt and personalize learning materials and experiences through timely and relevant interventions. With online learning, the possibilities for creating a rich and individualized virtual world are endless. It is no wonder that a report 2022 from BestColleges revealed that 70% of students think online education is better or equal to on-campus education.
Today, both long-respected brick-and-mortar colleges and innovative online universities like mine are leveraging e-learning to break down cost barriers, develop programs that align directly with the needs of employers and help fill the U.S. talent supply chain with a diverse set of qualified people. graduates. In 2018-2019 79 percent of colleges offered either stand-alone online courses or fully online degrees, and by fall 2020, 75% of undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one online course. While this surge was undoubtedly propelled by the pandemic, a 2021 survey showed that 73% of students would like to take online courses in the future.
As technologies continue to advance and allow more learners to follow pathways to opportunity, I sincerely hope that more university leaders will embrace new ways of learning that can make education more inclusive. If our institutions cannot keep the needs of students – all students – in our sights, they risk becoming irrelevant and missing an opportunity to help more people create better lives for themselves. , their families and their communities. As a nation, we need to open our eyes to the ways technology can create value for more students by improving education access, quality, personalization, delivery and affordability. It is the surest path to ensure that higher education remains relevant and able to create opportunities for the diversity of American learners.
Western Governors University