How Is Online Learning Sufficient

Meet Jessy Garcia, Executive Director of La Jolla Creative College in San Diego, who is often asked what online classes offer that traditional college cannot.

How Is Online Learning Sufficient

Are online learning courses sufficient to train a sufficient number of workers? The conventional wisdom is no. Education experts agree that as the economy continues to change, entry-level and intermediate skills required in skilled jobs are evolving at a rapid pace. That’s why the United States has spent the past twenty years championing education models that simultaneously prepare students for traditional, land-grant colleges while simultaneously preparing them for jobs in the knowledge economy.

Many education analysts, educators, and employers believe the United States must make more efforts to reach the workforce, especially low-skill workers, with the knowledge they need to be successful. That’s why the Obama administration created a strategy for job training in order to grow a skilled workforce that can produce good pay and reduce economic inequality. Though it has not always achieved the goal of preparing people to work in the knowledge economy, it has encouraged major initiatives to increase access to technology, foster lifelong learning, and provide better avenues for students to complete a four-year degree while building their foundation for a career. The Obama administration is understandably proud of its work, and the White House recently published its post-recess plan for job training and education, pledging to continue supporting innovative and pragmatic ways to meet the demand for workers in this knowledge economy. In addition to rewarding companies that invest in skill development, the plan encourages states to build on the impact of personalized learning.

Millennials’ extensive use of technology, their desire to work remotely, and the rapid adoption of MOOCS—especially at the graduate level—has made it easy for many educators and industry leaders to understand this new reality. But what do employers really need to know about these online learning environments? Our analysis of recent studies from some of the most prominent institutions working in this field, as well as one innovative new university, shows employers do not always gain the tangible benefits they desire:

Companies get the sense that MOOCs are delivering a high quality product to students, while they may actually end up with a learning algorithm that worked best for those enrolled in a high-demand field. This does not necessarily mean that a person would be better off in an online course or program, or that working on a MOOC course would make it more likely for them to be hired, but instead the approach is rarely a good business investment for companies.

With regards to technology-enabled distance learning, employers either do not have the time to train their own employees to get them trained using technology, or instead hire a third-party company to run their program.

In our new report, “Unprepared for Work, Without a Place to Go,” which also describes the approach for employers and educators using online learning models, we determined that all employers need to take steps to support these new modes of instruction and management for their employees. But it’s important to note that many new models work better for low-level jobs than high-level work—career development models being more appropriate in some fields and work-force development models in others. One study indicated that employers are most successful when integrating distance learning into existing programs, and the most successful programs focus on creating connections and training curriculum that also teach how to network.

Over the past twenty years, education policy and standards have moved away from traditional on-campus teaching models to a new mission for higher education: preparing students to do more than take college classes. Many of these online learning courses are more akin to a career development program than a traditional degree. And yet the overwhelming majority of students take these courses while pursuing a bachelor’s degree, with the largest demand being in the liberal arts and sciences. Because of these additional strands of learning that happen outside the classroom, employers often find that the quality of an online learning program and overall quality of the individual student cannot measure up to those of on-campus students. Businesses are not just interested in immediate job readiness and costs. They want to be able to measure whether these courses prepare people for a successful career in their own fields.

This is not a new issue. Educators and employers have talked about this for years—and the options they have for providing it in their schools and campuses has changed tremendously over time. According to White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s recent strategy for higher education and workforce development, technological innovation can help policymakers understand how best to address the need for employment assistance in an increasingly information-based economy. In this context, it is incumbent upon government and industry to work together to help students prepare for their future roles in an evolving economy.

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