Distance Learning: Fad or Future?
Imagine attending a university class in your underwear. Or how about visiting your professor while devouring a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. With increasing numbers of traditional universities joining the distance learning bandwagon, some scholars and business analysts are predicting the demise of the university as we know it.
In “On-Line U” (Scientific American, July 1999), Wendy Grossman takes a brief look into some of the current research on the state and efficacy of distance learning programs.
Critics of distance learning argue:
- There is no proof that the learning outcome is on par with traditional classroom teaching.
- Dropout rates are higher in distance learning programs.
- The Internet promotes inequality; poor children and minorities have repeatedly been found to be less familiar with technology.
- These “Digital Diploma Mills” commodify education to the point that we many eventually have only a handful of universities—Microsoft, Disney, and a few others.
Still, proponents of distance learning argue that it is an ideal way to update skills without taking extended time off work. In the end, it is employers who will judge whether distance learning has been effective for their employees and exactly how much distance learning they are willing to accept in lieu of classroom learning when they bring in new employees.