Education in the U.S. has been firmly hammered into a round hole, assuming that it’s a round peg. Because our parents sat in a classroom and someone lectured to them, that’s “the way” of truth and wonderfulness. All too many people seem to feel that because they learned something (and we’re seldom sure exactly what) from face-to-face lectures, that classroom lectures are the best way to learn. Many school boards agree, but it must be noted that Mark Twain once wrote: “God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.”
For many people, classroom lectures do seem to work OK. But it’s certainly not the only way to learn, and as young people become more facile and educated consumers of electronic media, it may not always be the most effective way for them to learn.
There are few things in our world as complicated as human beings. If you subscribe to one learning theory, we are the result of the sum total of our experiences – and no two of us have the same set of experiences. What’s more, we don’t respond to the same experience in the same way, so why should we expect that education would work the same way for everyone?
In fact, what people need today is a set of alternatives. Some of us are great at classroom learning; others need hands-on experience to really understand new ideas; and some of us are pretty comfortable in an online setting, placing a good deal of the responsibility for learning on our own shoulders as a teacher guides us through readings, directed activities and self-directed research in to class topics.
Of course, we should also note that some people do not learn well in certain settings – and the classroom is one of those. But for the past few hundred years, people have had few alternatives to the classroom, especially if they want that credential called a “diploma”.
What online education at all levels is doing today is adding an option to the established models of classroom learning. Truthfully, many people are comfortable in the classroom and it works OK for them. But especially for adults who are working and engaged in lives outside the classroom, going back to school on a campus just isn’t an option. They need a way to hold down a job, live with their family and still engage in learning new concepts and skills; and in today’s economy, many of them also need that diploma as the credential that either secures their job or opens the door to their next opportunity.
Many of us would prefer to be in a physical group with others who learning the same things. However, when that’s not a realistic option, distance education using various media – the Internet, DVDs, online courses – fills a void that has spanned hundreds of years. Now people have an option – not always their first option, but a great option for many – by pursuing online education. It’s a critical part of what will help us stay one of the best educated countries in the world.