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On Bubbles, Online Education, and Confused Reporting
June 11, 2013 - 9:00pm

I'm sure that Forbes staffer John Tamny is a good reporter, and that Forbes is a quality publication.

It is the quality of Tamny and Forbes that cause me so much frustration when I read columns such as Online Education Will Be the Next 'Bubble' To Pop, Not Traditional University Learning.

When Tamny is saying that online education is the next bubble he is of course not talking about the sort of online education that any of us working in the field of designing, teaching, or supporting online courses would recognize. 

Tamny is talking about MOOCs.   

He writes:

"To put it plainly, why pay $50,000+ annually for undergraduate business instruction at Vanderbilt or SMU if for a fraction of the cost you can learn equities from Jeremy Siegel at Pennsylvania’s Wharton School? How about political science classes taught by Bill Clinton?"

There may or may not be a MOOC bubble. Since Tamny conflates online education with MOOCs it is hard to critique his argument.

What is certain is that the online learning communities focus over the past decade has been on just the sort of learning that Tamny sees as most valuable.  That is learning that is built around the intense exchange and development of ideas between faculty and students.  Online courses are hot beds of good pedagogical practices.  All of the online programs that I have worked on have been collaborations between learning designers and subject matter experts, developed on strong theoretical foundations of how people learn.

Moreover, the line between online and face-to-face education is blurring. The move towards blended learning and flipped classrooms has freed up classroom time for more faculty student interaction and active student work. A traditional residential education is evolving into a mixed learning experience, with elements of online. blended and face-to-face learning all rolled into the experience.  

The online portion of blended learning is adding quality and value to teaching, while allowing the potential for increased productivity as scarce classroom and lab space can be better utilized. That online education story is the opposite of the Tamny's online education bubble.

I have a simple proposal. 

Any reporter writing about online and education and MOOCs should understand the difference between the two.  

Any reporter writing about online education should talk to people who have been designing and teaching online courses for the past few years.   Any reporter writing about the benefits or faults of online learning should have to enroll in a quality online degree program. 

And anyone that is writing about the pros and cons of residential vs. online education should experience a blended course.

 

 

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