Who Regulates Online Learning 2018

Online learning in education is here to stay. It has been identified as an effective tool that can shift the way that students learn and grow.

After battling multiple requests for information related to video education, citing for-profit and nonprofit web-based learning providers, the US Department of Education (ED) has finally requested proposed regulations from the industry.

The question has been around as the US moves toward making all of its students have an access to the online component of higher education. Educators are clamoring to include the online component of the online (vertical) school in degree programs. The Department of Education decided this week that it wanted answers from the online learning industry.

Already, the press release has revealed that it is exploring methods in which learning content for a bachelor’s degree would be more regulated as opposed to certificates or associate’s degrees. In other words, there is a realization that students need to participate in higher education at all levels in order to be given the opportunity to become financially stable.

To clarify, there are two ways the online learning industry would have to answer to the government for this topic. The first is that if this is a competitive market, the entire industry would have to participate in a Federal pre-qualification process. This is a process where the Federal Government will provide detailed information and then the better business practice for gaining Federal approval could be passed on to the companies, via the Federal certification program.

Many of these companies hold federal securities that are backed by student education funding for their highest volume clients. It could essentially take several years to get something approved and published by the state. The process of de-regulating online ed would only make sense if the population is heavily regulated. Why would I speak to an Ivy League company or a private company that has never done this (advertised online, at least on paper, or now not)? The answer is this is a thing that will have to happen because it is absolutely clear to the government that more traditional institutions need to exist in order to offer lower cost access to education and an option for options. Institutions will continue to provide a need because the market will demand these options.

There will likely also be the need for some proprietary charter schools that don’t currently exist to be considered. They will also have to answer to the federal government for any aspects of their curriculum that are educational and do not meet the state’s standards. This could include entrepreneurship and group learning and more “hobbyist” endeavors, such as cooking, crafts, dance, and music etc.

If this was a commodity (many students need this type of education), it would actually make more sense for a company to create something that would hit the market and be regulated and available for buy-ins. The further we move to a digital world, a lot of the lines blur. With a federal directive, there will be a move to go and not just access the digital world, but create those properties that have that assurance that they can be marketed to other companies and issued pre-screened for. Companies will have to invest in online learning content that has quality behind it. Educational is not good enough when the software is unstable and/or broken.

Will the regulators do this out of charity? Sure. It will also be motivated by capital gains investors and greed that is probably non-existent. The world of interactive, instant online learning has made a big difference in recent years. It is a competitive game and to not capture the opportunity will not be good for the market. Not to mention the false narrative that might follow when a more transparent system is put in place. The University of Phoenix did a recent survey that stated that it did as much to improve education standards in the US as might exist in the next three decades. I really doubt that in their hearts they want to be broken up from that potential.

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