How Long Has Online Learning Been Around

Recent news suggesting that the online learning market is nearing saturation would seem to put the future of online learning in jeopardy.

Online learning has long been the topic of discussion among educators. It is fair to say that there was a time when the door was open to people learning content for the first time entirely through online courses. Sadly those days are long gone. We are more well rounded in our educational opportunities nowadays.

Back when I was at California State University, Fresno, the school offered online curriculum. At the time it was a “fad” that students sought out because it required minimal effort. It is also a valid explanation for why the tuition load is far less than other students to pursue an online education. These days though, the narrative has shifted towards the charge that online education only provides a quality experience of lesser value.

With the declining enrollment numbers among many of the nation’s state-owned universities over the past few years, and with the student debt reaching the point where students are struggling to make ends meet, it’s not hard to understand why enrollment in online courses has fallen off a cliff. Just like with the K-12 market, in order to help students avoid student debt problems, the financial elite can be quite vocal on issues that concern that market.

Through online courses, that is the opportunity for faculty and administrators to utilize their newfound excesss of knowledge to assist in the prevention of out-of-control debt problems that have been so prevalent in recent years. We are seeing brick and mortar universities and state schools make moves to stop the bleeding and build on education methods that are less in need of specialized tuition and more versatile, effective. There is also, of course, the opportunity to use tech to assist in some degree of retention.

When learning is seen as something that happens online, it is seen as an additional expense, so there is little appetite for paying for online classes or quality online content. That doesn’t seem to make any sense, but only time will tell if this is the right path for states to head down. What is the answer? While tuition expense and the ability to manage the degrees can lead to solutions for both the whole community college system and the State of California, it may be a solution better suited for another day.

There are those that believe that the way of running education in the future is going to be completely flipped. It is the vision that calls for students to complete certain programs online, in a 9-5 business day that meets the needs of the job market. I certainly see it as an option, but only one that gives people the tools to be prepared in an increasingly unpredictable job market.

If I was a state looking to remove any of the general risk and risk mitigation that is needed, there are no excuses for delaying the expansion of the online education offerings. This is where the tech leader in communities like Silicon Valley, Uber, Lyft, etc., may play a role in helping foster an expansive group of job creators. It is a way for those in the creative field to stay connected to new ideas that can evolve as quickly as the social media platforms that they work from.

One thing that is not surprising is that as people become more educated, they want more freedom in their decision making. A move to online learning can help students achieve more in less time. This could solve the problem of less qualified students that are attending college. It could also ease the burden of less qualified students who are required to attend college simply due to the current economic climate.

This is no longer the time to discriminate against technology in education. An investment now can help fuel the development of a very labor intensive industry in the U.S. that not only caters to the diverse needs of local communities, but to a nation that finds itself undergoing significant challenges in having an attractive, educated workforce.

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