E-Learning Story on NPR

NPR ran an interesting story this morning on the growth of e-learning (in this case, pure online classes with no in-person component) in higher education. It focuses on how faculty are adapting to new technologies and centers on the University of Illinois-Springfield.

There’s nothing new here for followers of distance learning. The interesting thing, for me, was the story’s acceptance of this as beneficial and, in any case, inevitable. We’re certainly moving past the point of “is this something we should be doing” to “how can we make this work best.”

One of the points I found intriguing was the following comment from environmental policy faculty member Denise Keele:

In my experience, it takes about twice as long — prep time, putting materials together — to actually deliver the online course than it does to deliver the on-campus course.

Over time this can’t continue to be true or the economics won’t work for the faculty or the universities. Faculty will naturally get more efficient at this, of course. But I do think it is incumbent upon us as designers and developers of online learning platforms to think about the effort involved by faculty (and students) in setting up and teaching online courses.

It’s one thing to go through this effort if you have to because you’re teaching a pure online course. It’s quite another for a faculty member teaching primarily in-person classes.


4 Responses

  1. The link to the story is malformed. Just FYI.

  2. Fixed. Thanks, Steve.

  3. Michael – this *will* work because the following is generally true – those courses best suited for distance education are often pretty straightforward material wise. if I am teaching the same course after about three semesters – I have the material so polished – that it becomes easy. If I am going to teach the same class for three or more semesters – my net time over three semesters is much lower doing it online – even though it is about double the prep time for the first semester. I once taught the same online course for 6 straight semesters – the course got very good after a while and took me very little time to put on a pretty good show. I was not completely lazy and each semester I would update/improve the weakest lectures – so once I had the course running well – it took about 1/3 of the prep time to teach – and some of that 1/3 time was revising materials to make the course even better. So it was a win-win in terms of what the students learned and how well the course was taught. The next loss frankly is the lack of micro-feedback from students when they did not get some topic. In a non-distance situation students will very clearly tell me when I went too far or too fast – or even if I am going too slow – in a distance situation – I never see the frowns or smiles – so I cannot adapt my teaching on a moment by moment basis. Once yo invest so much in prepared materials it takes a pretty strong push to change the course direction – whereas if you are ding the prep in the moment – things can change.

  4. I think that’s probably true today, Chuck. Although the implication is that the (seemingly increasing number of) “all online” programs are either going to deal with more straightforward subject areas, deal with a drop in quality, or invest the extra effort in preparation. The extra effort is worth it if the content is stable and you can, as you point out, simply keep teaching the same way term after term.

    The scalability/repeatability of online learning activities for was a major obsession of the research institute where I was a grad student in the 1990s (The Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern under the direction of Roger Schank).

    Also, sorry for the delay in approving your comment. It somehow got flagged as spam and I just discovered it. I can’t see what would have caused that, given the obviously prurient nature of the rest of the spam queue.

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