My motivation for creating a blog, like most, comes primarily from having something to say. For many years, largely before the field became well-known, the subject of online learning had captured my dual interest in technology and learning. It was in 1997, in a chance meeting in a college parking lot, that a colleague/friend of mine asked , “What do you know about distance education?” At the time, I had never even heard of the term, but since there was a potential job to be had, I quickly found out all I could and even completed a “Certificate in Distance Learning” from the University of Wisconsin in 1998. Since then, I have been following this rapidly growing field, first as a hobby and more recently, as an essential part of my work.
From the earliest days of my journey, I clearly saw the potential of online learning (distance learning is a more dated term). The powerful combination of technology in service of teaching and learning appealed both to the technologist and teacher in me. Even in the early 1980s as part of a graduate assistantship at Baruch College of CUNY, I co-authored two papers on the cost-effectiveness of Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) with Dr. Allan Pressman. My interest in this subject has not waned since.
The field of distance education really took off with the advent of a reliable and ubiquitous Web. Prior to the World Wide Web era, many distance-learning technologies were attempted with mixed results. Dedicated TV and satellite networks, videoconferencing installations, audio conferencing programs, and simple, mailed VCR tapes were methods used to distribute content. Many of these systems were expensive, unreliable, impractical, and/or not user-friendly. By the late 1990s, these approaches had given way to the Internet and what we now recognize as online learning.
In a word, online learning is “hot.” According to the latest Sloan Consortium report entitled, “Class Differences: Online Education in the U.S. 2010,” online learning has been growing at a 20% per annum rate for nearly a decade, with about 5.6 million students currently enrolled in online courses. Clearly, online learning represents the most significant trend in higher education in the past decade with learning institutions of all types actively exploring the potential of online for their specific needs. Concomitantly, online learning has accelerated significant changes in higher education teaching toward a more student-centered learning approach, a significant unintended consequence of this innovative field.
Coming full circle, this field resonates with me in terms of my interest, experience and insight. I would hope these blog entries on various aspects of online learning, are both informative and stimulating. I have a definite point of view, tempered with a clear understanding that I can be wrong in my thinking. I am certainly open to other views and constructive feedback. Although opinionated, I’m more inclined to “light a candle rather than curse the darkness.” So let me begin to strike a virtual match for online learning.