There is a lot of hype about on-line degrees with many people feeling that they will be the norm in the future, while others see the traditional College system surviving. I have mixed feelings about it. There were no on-line courses available in the late 1970s/early 1980s when I was in College - mostly because there was no "on-line" (I'm not counting correspondence courses or the Open University TV programmes in this). I would love to have had the choice, though my preference would be for a combination of both traditional and on-line courses.
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First - the pros:
- Opportunity and convenience
- Potentially lower costs
- Faster completion
Yes - it can be convenient for some people to take a course at their own computer in their office or home. Hickey also says that it can be cheaper if no room and board is needed to be paid for. His third point is the most interesting about "completion" where "online programs are streamlining extraneous courses out of their degree requirements" with "more targeted degree options that cut out everything but what you actually need to earn a degree in a specific subject". So if someone wanted a lower cost, more convenient, and targeted degree - on-line might be best.
Now - the cons:
- Some subjects don’t work
- Increased personal responsibility
- Networking challenges
Obviously if you want to study occupational therapy, then this will be almost impossible to complete on-line. Hickey reminds us that managing and monitoring degree requirements on-line will be difficult to many learners - especially if they prefer a "highly structured environment". I think the biggest challenge is the lack of networking with other learners and teachers. While this can be overcome with discussion boards, VLEs, Twitter/Facebook interactions - there is still great value from face-to-face interaction, but that in an on-line environment networking "can be significantly more challenging and frustrating than it would be in an on-campus setting".
I feel the challenges of networking will be reduced by the phones in our pockets and the watches on our wrists. Millennials are more used to communicating on-line so they will not hark back to the good ol' days when communication in education was face-to-face. For me - the biggest challenge that remains is that educators are behind. There are still overhead projectors in classrooms in my College - just think that a student sitting a few metres away could be wearing a SmartWatch! The gap is widening.