At its best, online learning is an educational conspiracy, challenging the monopoly of traditional face-to-face graduate study. Online learning often gets the scrutiny that is deserved of all learning. Is a one hour lecture to a group of 30+ students truly the most effective way to help students master the stated course objectives? Is it superior or more effective than other methods? Or, is it simply an unquestioned higher education tradition? Online learning, in some cases, serves as a challenge to such traditions. For that reason, it may well be a mechanism to not only increase accessibility to higher education, but to challenge, improve, and transform what takes place in traditional face-to-face graduate programs.
While certainly not an exhaustive list, here are five other ways that online graduate programs challenge the superiority of traditional face-to-face graduate study:
1. They challenge the notion that one must move or travel large distances in order to obtain a high quality graduate education.
2. They challenge the notion that one must submit to often inflexible schedules of courses and offerings in order to obtain a quality graduate education.
3. In some cases, they challenge the notion of a one-size fits all graduate education (although many of the best face-to-face programs join in this challenge).
4. In other cases, they challenge the premise that graduate courses are best designed and taught by a single person. In many cases, online learning promotes a team-based approach to course design that may include a combination of subject-matter experts, instructional designers, graphic designers, computer programmers, and a variety of other specialists. In fact, the role of instructor is just one of many factors in some good online learning course designs. While not devaluing the role of a good teacher, what makes the role of instructor so sacred? The only essential role in effective learning is the role of learner.
5. They challenge the idea of the closed-door, no questions asked approach to courses. In place of that, many online courses and programs receive ongoing careful scrutiny. Furthermore, all course activities are perfectly recorded and available for post-course review and evaluation. Imagine if every classroom interaction, every instructor comment, every student comment, and every student artifact of learning in a traditional face-to-face course were available for careful review as part of a course improvement process. That is already the case with many online courses. This is not to suggest that all online programs use this data, but when the data is available, there is an option to use it.