I am a University administrator and professor of education who has been involved with online learning in one way or another for over twenty years. As part of my ongoing professional development in this area, I review online programs around the world. I am constantly looking for new ways to structure programs so that they provide effective and engaging learning experiences for students. Much of my time is spent working with graduate online programs, so please keep that in context as you read the rest of this post.
Each day my convictions are growing and my vision is becoming clearer. It may come off as cliche or pie-in-the-sky, but I believe in the power of blended and online learning to transform education. However, I am under no delusion that this transformation is always good. In fact, I join others who express concern about some trends:
- diploma mills,
- students run through programs like they are a product going through a factory production line,
- programs with no sense of social presence or student-student / student-instructor relationships,
- schools building online programs without adequate intellectual capitol or real-work expertise,
- schools letting dollar signs or student numbers impair their vision and blur their ability to focus on their historic mission,
- and schools providing online learning experiences that are void to true intellectual mentoring.
Out of all of the the items in this list of concerns, the last is my focus right now.
I believe that excellent and intentional mentoring is near the center of a great graduate educational experience. This is true whether it is a hybrid program, fully online, or a full-time residential experience. This explains why graduate students in some of the “top” graduate schools in the world come out of programs with mediocre teachers, but they have still learned a ton, and they often go on to have a huge impact on society. Teaching has never been the only or even the central attribute of the best graduate programs. The community, the culture of that community, and the mentoring relationships in that community (often in the form of assistantships, research projects, etc.) also help make(s) these programs great.. That is the first step toward my manifesto of online learning.. Excellent graduate online programs must be more than a series of courses (no matter how well they are designed).
They entail an immersive learning community that extends the span of the program. They have a culture that drips of the core values and mission of the University. They have faculty/mentors who are passionately and continually investing in the lives of the students. And they engage students in individual and community scholarship. These are the attributes of an excellent online graduate program.