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Online learning and higher education: an essential paradox or a senseless contradiction?

minn Michael Stewart
Lingwa: EN
Document available also in: ET

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Online Learning & Education:an essential paradox or a senseless contradiction?

Online education and higher education: an essential paradox or a senseless contradiction?

Over the previous fourteen weeks, we have explored the potential and actual impact that new and emerging digital technologies have had and will continue to have on the process of teaching and learning. We have debated whether or not these technologies have provided educationalists with unprecedented opportunities and daunting challenges in equal measure and the likely effects that these will have in the longer term.

On the plus side, online learning provides a vehicle which has the potential to enable the recruitment of an extraordinary number of students; cohorts can include those previously excluded for reasons of geographical remoteness and personal circumstance. Perhaps for the first time, such students can be provided with access to a high quality educational experience.

On the downside, eLearning presents us with the problem of having to reconfigure our existing organisation, of devising a robust educational and technical infrastructure that underpins what will come to be regarded as the most powerful tool to impact upon education since the invention of the printing press.

The shock of the new

When the prospect of delivering education via the internet was first mooted, advocates of eLearning found themselves in the unenviable position of having to defend the medium against some robust opposition. Naturally, most of this came from those engaged in traditional forms of delivery and centred on issues pertaining to the standard of academic quality and pastoral support, the rigour of assessment procedures and, subsequently, the validity of any certifications awarded. In addressing these concerns, there was a tendency in the eLearning lobby to seek solutions that involved the re-creation of the traditional, face-to-face teaching and learning experience online.

This is understandable; new concepts are more readily understood when presented within a familiar format.

However, this approach reinforced the underlying assumption that the attendance based student experience is inherently superior; that the face-to-face model sets the benchmark for the provision of education and training, and any alternative is destined to be a poor facsimile.

This is simply ludicrous; a classic example of comparing apples to oranges, having already decided that the former is less appealing than the latter.

The fallacy that attendance based provision always provides a better educational experience for the student assumes that, in terms of course delivery, one size fits all and that physical attendance by the student is not only possible but preferable.

The complete version of the article can be accessed by following this link.

Missed the previous instalment of Online Learning and Higher Education? Read the previous chapter "Progress & Polarity" by following the link here.

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Michael Stewart
Michael Stewart has extensive experience in the writing, directing and delivery of education programmes across a range of media. More recently as a member of the board and management team of the Interactive Design Institute, Michael has fulfilled a wide variety of functions including the development of pedagogy for online delivery.


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