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Philosophical (Not Financial) Drivers of Online Education

Why do you do what you do?

January 31, 2019
 
 

Many of us spend our days working towards, and our nights thinking about, the creation of new online programs.

Why?

The answer to this question may surprise many outside of higher ed, and some within.  And yet, I’m convinced that our answer would be the most common response if we bothered asked those in our community.

What will be most surprising, is that our answer as to why spend our careers working towards building new online educational programs is that this work has very little to do with money.

We are not in the online education game for the revenues.

Sure, we need our programs to be sustainable.  And if they can generate some extra dollars that can fund other educational programs - and pay our professors as much as possible - then that is great.

We see online learning as a way to advance the mission of our institutions.

This mission may be one of access and opportunity.  The mission could be relating to educating the whole person and preparing them for a lifetime of leadership.  Or the mission could be around creating economic options and opportunities for our students, and the communities in which they live.

All of these missions are related, connected, and inseparable.  Higher education is how our society creates opportunity.  The efforts to educate, credential, and create knowledge are the investments we make in our individual and collective futures.

In the context that I work, I see online education as a method to invest in an intimate and relational model of liberal arts teaching and learning.

This educational model revolves around a close learning relationship between scholars and students, in which all students move (in collaboration with professors) from consumers to producers of new knowledge.

This relational model of liberal arts learning, where students get to know the people writing the books, is the best preparation imaginable for a big and confident life.  It is the sort of education, a small-scale relational liberal arts education, that I wish were available to more than a lucky few.

How might online learning advance an intimate, relational, and rigorous education?  One that has been iterated on, refined, advanced, and optimized over two and half centuries?

Trying to find the answer to these questions is what I find most exciting about the world of online education?

How can the best of a close-knit residential educational experience be extended to learners - and here I’m thinking mostly of learners outside of the undergraduate years who are pursuing advanced degrees and training - who cannot live and study on campus?

Are there ways to extend an educational experience built on scholars investing the time to educate, mentor, and guide learners to an environment outside of the physical classroom?

The questions that the online learning community are asking are all about extending, refining, and aligning with the mission of their institutions.  These questions might be about how a quality education can be offered at an affordable cost?  Or how those who are unable to access the gifts of higher education, due to family and work constraints, might be able to become students if they could study online at their own pace from wherever they may be.

I think about online education as an opportunity to discover new ways in which we might advance, and maybe even make more widely available, what I believe to be already the world’s best liberal arts education.  Online education is about opportunity creation for our students and resilience for our institutions.

How does the growth of the online program management (OPM) industry, and the growing number of non-profit and for-profit partnerships in the online education space, fit in with these philosophical drivers to create new online education programs?

Do you see philosophical, rather than financial, arguments as powerful enough to motivate colleges and universities to prioritize investments in online education?

Why are you dedicated to expanding online education at your institution?

Why do you do what you do?

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