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DAVID ROSMAN: In the battle between classroom and online learning, the campus still wins

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | 1:55 p.m. CDT; updated 5:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 10, 2011

There has been a lot of talk about the future of education. In fact, a friend just asked me for advice about conducting an online speech communication program using real-time interactive conferencing software.

If he had asked me four years ago, I would have laughed in his face. But today …

There is a bigger question, of course, about dealing with the general future of the brick-and-mortar school. Not the classes with 100-plus students and a lecturer on a stage with complicated physics formulas written on a multitude of blackboards behind him. I am talking about the more typical 30-student classroom or lab.

There are a lot of newcomers to distance learning, but with more than 15 years of experience, I am not one. I was a beta tester on the original Blackboard learning platform in 1992, and I was one of the inaugural instructors for the Colorado Community College Online. Today, I have speakers visit my classrooms via Skype. Distance learning has come a long way.

Bill Daniels, founder of Daniels’ Communication, was one of the innovators of distance-learning programs. Using his television cable system as the avenue, he established Daniels’ University, later renamed International University.

He teamed with major universities across the country to produce and deliver programs on cable and video, provide faculty and design curriculum. I taught management of human resources through Regis University’s Daniels classes. I met him at a 1997 meeting of the American Society of Training and Development in Denver.

Daniels’ real-time quasi-interactive television-based learning system was not too different from the online programs available today. In fact, his programs are very much the basis of the “new” online colleges and universities in this growing market, including programs of MU, Columbia and Stephens colleges, and Yale and Harvard universities.

Today’s innovators include heavyweights like Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, an oracle in the field of computerized distance learning. Also innovators are the hundreds of thousands of business professionals embracing real-time online interactive conferencing to promote their businesses and products, providing education and troubleshooting without leaving the comfort of their office — or home.

What is not happening is the reduction in the cost of education that has been claimed by so many innovators, "techies" and self-pronounced visionaries. Columbia College’s online program costs 15 percent more than the traditional class (evening campus) — that is until you add in the other costs, such as parking, student activity fees and the like. But at just under $1,000 per class, it's still expensive.

Additionally, the numbers of students using online education services are not reducing the number of students in seats. Metropolitan State College of Denver told me its on-campus population has increased since the advent and because of its online programs.  

Ernest Wren III, Columbia College’s assistant dean for adult higher education and the online campus, said most online students are either using the systems to supplement their traditional classes or they are in a part of the world where a classroom is not available. With many in the military, Columbia College students can access classes while in the Iraqi or Afghan theaters.

From my own experience, students old and young disliked the online campus; most identified the impersonal feeling they got, even if they are tech-savvy YouTubers. Even the free online programs offered by Open Yale Courses from Yale University are talking heads.

Learning has to entail so much more — all of the senses, interaction and interpersonal, nonverbal and verbal communication found only in a classroom.

Are programs like Khan Academy and Yale’s OYC important to the growth of education? You betcha. Are they signaling the demise of the college campus? Not any time soon.

Students, at least from my experience, show no academic advantage learning online rather than in a seat in a classroom. In fact, brick and mortar seem to win.

Am I denouncing online and distance education? No. I am saying that the use of new technology is only another tool in the arsenal of education and no more.

Is education changing? Absolutely. The need for a campus with students in chairs and whiteboards to write on will never be put to pasture. In the battle between campus versus pixel, campus still wins.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.

 


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