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Online education experiences

Slashdot – hallowed ground for die-hard techies – is again tackling the question of experiences with online education. The general tone is negative – too much reading in online courses, discussions are too shallow, not enough time “doing”, too expensive, and so on. Most of the complaints (other than those relating to costs) are not a function of learning online, but rather of the course design. A well designed online course can be an excellent learning experience. General loathing of higher education also makes it’s way into the forum. This hatred of higher education is starting to frustrate me. Education is an equalizing system – the only one that addresses the inequalities generated by other systems. Some of those who are most vocal in their opposition to education (and schooling in general) will be the ones who would lose the most if the system did actually disappear. Take away the ideals, the underpinning of democracy, and you end up with a utilitarian system that serves only to prepare people for employment.


  1. kuriousmind wrote:

    I agree with your comments, but find after more than a decade teaching in higher education (‘students’ and ‘faculty’) that most are, at the least, seeking education to “prepare [them] employment”… and too often, we are failing and just that utilitarian goal.

    But, to be sure, your comments about the design of learning are sound.

    In higher education online environments now, too often, I see a continued focus on the threaded discussion as the quality-indicator in courses (much discussion! must be great quality learning!) when in the real-world it’s evidence of thinking and quality “doing” that is most valued, and can be shown in multiple learning outputs.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  2. It’s never in the system, as I found out trying to implement Blackboard ,odules amongst colleagues, but in the people. I experienced online learning myself and made great discoveries, even thought out an e-learning concept which we’re trying to deploy now. It’s not the system that keeps good developments from maturing, it’s people, unable to look over a period longer than let’s say 12 to 24 months. I can understand your frustration about the tendency in discussions. Overseas in the Netherlands there are few platforms on the e-learning topic that do not give in, and keep up the productive dialogue on i.e. virtuality (SURF-SIG). Connectivism is inavoidable! Development of interesting and interactive stuff will proceed. And even now people are learning online without even noticing what special competences they are earning. (avoid the answer, follow the question)

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  3. Ethel Enstrom wrote:

    Yes, I agree that the design of online courses is very important, as is the active facilitation of the online learning experience. Online facilitation (or teaching) is a skill set that needs to be acquired and practised. As Tony Bates reminds us, “Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of technology, but technology will *never* save bad teaching” (cited at

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  4. The problem lies in little or no pedagogical training of teachers in higher education.
    There is no course to be a teacher at this level of education and often breed practices and methodologies that have resulted (and not necessarily the most correct, if that exists). In the online environment these weaknesses become more evident because they are more visible and subject to criticism.
    I am part of a team that implemented an online education project and the problem ends up being the system and not people, because fortunately (and we have had cases of these) people are smart enough to change their practices …

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  5. Keith Quinn wrote:

    Absolutely agree with your comments about learning design. Too often, people confuse content with learning experience. Nor do they understand that creating good learning experiences takes time, effort and a high degree of skill.

    I don’t see this changing until people stop seeing elearning as a cheap option rather than an alternative (but equally rigorous) approach to learning.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  6. Thomas Sheppard wrote:

    I wonder how much of this argument is influenced by attitudes about distance education. You’d think by now that we could have moved beyond the debate about quality education between f2f and DE. Yet, I know some of my colleagues that take online courses and equate their bad experience not to design of the course or even the instructor but the fact that it was online. Yet, the never seem to blame a bad experience in the classroom on the fact that it was delivered f2f.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  7. Your last point becomes more and more important everyday. I don’t know if you have read The Shock Doctrine, but it’s basically what’s going on with education right now — there’s a bunch of very powerful and wealthy people behind the scenes whipping up a “crisis” the solution to which will be “let’s start from scratch”.

    Except of course it won’t be from scratch. The plans are already drawn up. The future of education, if the vandals get their way, will look roughly like the home mortgage industry.

    Monday, August 9, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  8. Lars-Erik Jonsson wrote:

    I have read the discussion initiated by Georte Siemens about online learning. I believe very much in what Tony Bates says about teaching and technology; its a matter of teacher presence. At the University of Gothenburg I have been able to create quite a good interest among university faculty for a mandatory course in “higher education pedagogy”. The participants are professors, physicians, lecturers and doctoral candidates. From my experience teacher presence i a key to success. Every participant needs to be seen and it takes a lot of time for me as the course leader. We use a traditional LMS and our discussions are almost entirely text-based. Still they become interested. Text might seem old-fashioned to some but it is my conviction that you have to adapt the medium to your participants. University staff are not particularly technically interested generally and I think many of them consider the LMS rather high-tech. Most of them are totally unfamiliar with a LMS. As to text-based discussions I think that academic content in most cases requires text. I believe that also courses at masters level fit very well into this way of organizing courses. See f.ex “The Online Seminar as Enacted Practice” by Säljö and myself (

    Friday, August 13, 2010 at 2:09 am | Permalink