Change Plays a Necessary Role in the Evolution of the Learning Process
“There is nothing more perilous to undertake or uncertain of success, than to initiate a change in the order of things.”— Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli
Resistance to change is universal. Skeptics are ubiquitous. So when it comes to encouraging others to embrace the concept of online learning, my preference is to lead by example. When I joined University of Phoenix in 2004 as an online faculty member, I followed through with that sentiment. Here’s why I am pleased with my decision to instruct online classes:
- Work is evaluated solely on intellectual merit.
- Factors potentially associated with discrimination (e.g., age, race, gender, sexual preference, physical appearance, the sound of the voice) can be more easily subdued in a virtual setting if the learner desires.
- 24/7 availability to the online classroom and research materials means information is highly accessible.
Having graduated from traditional brick-and-mortar universities (University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California), I chose to reserve initial judgment regarding the value of specific online learning platforms and to look more closely at the graduates it produced. This included taking a close look at job applicants whose degrees came from online schools. I also took note that master’s and doctoral level classes were being offered online. Finally, I checked into course content and curriculum development to see what online instructors were teaching. In the process, I developed a respect for the value and integrity of online course delivery.
Academic quality aside, accessibility to those who otherwise might not be able to complete a college education is what makes the University of Phoenix online model so valuable. Healthcare professionals such as nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and others who would like to advance from clinical to administrative duties would not be able to do so, for example, in a traditional university setting. Because University of Phoenix is available online wherever and whenever they are available, seemingly unattainable academic goals become a reality.
The importance of online accessibility applies as much to men and women who serve in the nation’s armed forces. Because classes are online, a degree program can follow a service man or woman wherever he or she might deploy.
Entrepreneurs with consulting careers also often require constant travel and erratic work schedules. They, too, benefit from online course and degree programs. These committed professionals are empowered by online learning platforms to fulfill personal academic aspirations, preparing them to better serve their clients and fellow human beings— a satisfaction that is priceless.
At the 2006 Phi Beta Kappa Triennial Council in Atlanta, the Visiting Scholar symposium featured Dennis O'Brien and N. Katherine Hayles, commenting on "American Higher Education: 50 Years Back, 50 Years Ahead." Hayles presented a riveting view of future cognitive trends and the ramifications for literary studies:
- Deep attention - previous model: Focus on one information stream for long periods of time (e.g., total immersion in a 600-page book)
- Hyper attention - contemporary model: Focus on multiple information streams for short periods (e.g., playing video games, watching television, talking on the phone)
- Kaiser funded research on Generation M: Influence of media on 8- to 18-year-old population, ADD, and hyperactivity
- Enrollment in English and literary studies is dropping dramatically as students "vote with their feet"
- Recommend bridging gap between deep and hyper attention students by developing innovative teaching methods. To study autobiography, use media such as "MySpace" to introduce genre. Then, move to "Education of Henry Adams" to further develop skills.
- USC Interactive Media Division - backchannel - goal of effective lecturer is to "seed ideas"
And my point? As a famous philosopher once mused, “The only limits to discovery are the limits to human imagination.”
This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.