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Thursday, September 7, 2006

RTT: College Degrees Online and On Demand

We've all noticed the BOOM in online, aka distance learning, education. What started as taking a few freshman level, lecture-heavy classes online moderated by a professor through email or online bulletin boards has morphed into a multi-million dollar market where new "universities" are popping up to offer bachelor's, master's and even PhD's online without stepping foot on a single piece of lush, green university grass.

And to be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it.

While I understand that making education available online makes it more accessible - afterall you can get your "lectures" 24 hours a day and send your class work via email in an instant - I think that such a system is lacking. Bulletin boards and email are nice for sharing ideas, but it's not the same as live, electric classroom discussions and debate. Absent are the voices and, I believe, much of the emotion invovled in a good classroom discussion.

And yet there are instantces where I think an online course is a great solution for those who have difficulty making it to a university campus in between work schedules, family commitments, etc. Classes that are heavy on lectures (which can be read just as easily as listened to) and focus more on providing introductory information about a particular subject area rather than on specialized information and topics that are up for debate. You know, the freshman type classes that are great for young people who are experiencing college for the first time to take inside the classroom, but more of a hassle for those of us who have our own "real world" education to bring to the table.

But I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with getting an entire degree online. I think that having direct access to a professor, being able to sit down and have an open discussion in real time, asking questions that can be answered immediately while reading or discussing is what a college degree should be about. It's not just about a piece of paper.

It's the experience. The acquisition of knowledgement not just througha computer screen or a textbook, but through interacting with other human beings who are not like you, but have many of the same dreams and goals as you do. It's about learning from a professor who has spent many years to become a master in his expertise so that he may pass his knowledge onto you.

So I'm just not convinced that an online degree is worth as much as a traditional degree even if the pieces of paper look the same when you frame them for display above your desk.


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