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Online Degree Facts

Online Degree Facts

November 30, 1999

The Evolution of Distance Learning

Distance learning in whatever medium is not a new idea; it has actually been practiced since the turn of the last century. The old correspondence school has gained new life with the advent of the Internet, but with greatly extended "richness" and "reach" (Weigel, 2000). These online degree programs are not an alternative for those who simply cannot make it in class, but rather are designed for adults who have specific goals and limited available time.

Modern Online Degree Programs

Many online degree programs lacked uniformity of quality in past years, but today's online programs are much more focused and purposeful. Advancement in the quality and scope of learning management systems (LMS) can be credited with much of that shift. A few of the other reasons include greater availability of online courses, an increased need, whether real or perceived, for additional training or degrees for professional advancement and easier access to the Internet.

There is a variety of opinion surrounding the effectiveness of online learning, of course. Clark (1991) writes that he came to regard his 1983 position that "media does not influence students' learning and motivation" (p. 34) as no longer being true and by 1991 altered his position to acknowledging that "media are now taken along with student perception to be factors in student motivation" (Clark, 1991; p. 34).

This is consistent with Salomon's (1997) statement that "Media's symbolic forms shape the way people form meanings, use their mental capacities and view the world" (p. 375). Though mind "and media are allegedly two very different entities" (Salomon, 1997; p. 375), there appears to be a convergence recognized today that often was not recognized in the past, as Clark (1991) notes. That is that mind generally "is taken to encompass the very essence of humanity - intelligence, emotion, compassion, will, and creativity" (Salomon, 1997; p. 375), while technology typically is viewed as being "cold, impersonal, dehumanizing, dull technology of the mass production of information for mass distribution" (Salomon, 1997; p. 375). Despite these broad differences in mind and technology, "history, research, and experience tell us that the two are intertwined in a number of ways" (Salomon, 1997; p. 375).

Media Presence in Daily Life

The current focus on media and media types certainly is justifiable, given the environments in which many children grow up in today's society. Video games exist as the modern siren call; their effects often can be traced to the types of games children are allowed to play. If children are so drawn to video games, then it follows that the same medium would be beneficial in teaching children knowledge they need and that adults want them to assimilate. Moreno and Duran (2004) investigated the value of this position to find that multimedia games did indeed enhance some children's learning but cautioned that "multimedia games may not be equally effective for all learners" (p. 492). Even so, Moreno and Mayer (2005) found that multimedia games can be quite effective among those learners who respond well to them.

The Evolution of Learning in America

Learning more often than not was by wrote in most subjects well into the 20th century. Early in the century, progressives believed that public schools also should teach children to be citizens and wives, or to emerge with a viable trade if they were not destined to attend college, which remained an elitist concept in many respects. By mid-century there was little attention given to math and science in public schools. Then the Soviets shocked all of America when they launched Sputnik in 1957. Sputnik's existence highlighted the need for education reform in America.

It seems that American education tried everything except what would work for all students. We were liberal; we were restrictive; we encouraged high performers and then sought to minimize their accomplishments so not to discourage others. We came to the 21st century spending more than ever, but achieving poor educational results. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the in-progress solution to underperforming schools. Public schools are required to show meaningful and measurable gains in educational achievement, regardless of demographic characteristics, economic conditions or any other external feature of the local area.

How the No Child Left Behind Act Affects Education

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act "aims to bring all students up to the proficient level on state tests by the 2013-14 school year, and to hold states and schools more accountable for results" (No Child Left Behind, n.d.). It establishes a variety of remedies for the children attending public schools that fail to demonstrate improvement for two to six or more consecutive years, and also receive Title I federal funds.

NCLB is the short-form result of revamping and redesigning the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Title 1 of the act addresses the school performance, student achievement and teacher accountability that gain so much attention.  The act also requires that technology use be enhanced in schools, in addition to teachers being trained in technology through professional development initiatives.

Title II is "Preparing, Training and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals;" Part D specifically addresses enhancing education with the use of technology. Among other things, Title II Part D calls for:

  • "Development of an effective educational technology infrastructure;
  • "Professional development that promotes integration of technology into the curriculum and alignment with state standards;
  • "Use of electronic means for teaching and student learning;
  • "Use of technology to promote family involvement and school-family communication;
  • "Training on emerging technologies;
  • "Professional development to retrieve Internet-based learning resources; [and]
  • "Preparing teachers to be building-based technology leaders" (Graber, 2002; p. 8).

Graber (2002) notes that virtually every program requires "extensive professional development for teachers, principals and support staff, including the dissemination of best-practice models" (p. 8). These requirements span the entire range of public education, including in professional development those who staff early childhood programs.

Professional Development

Specific requirements for professional development are contained in Title IX of the ESEA. Recognizing that many public school systems lack great depth in the area of technology, Title IX states that in those areas where educational service agencies exist, state-level education departments "shall consider providing professional development and technical assistance through such agencies" (Graber, 2002; p. 5).

This section of the law is careful to define what does and does not qualify as professional development. It does "not include 1-day or short-term workshops and conferences" (ESEA quoted in Graber, 2002; p. 5). Addressable topics in this section include methods for teaching reading; methods for assessing English language proficiency; and training in effective instructional strategies based on research-derived best practices for math and science education (Graber, 2002).

Business-Based Training

For their part, businesses have cut costs, laid off employees, looked for internal efficiencies to build on and have taken a host of other steps to increase their opportunities to prosper in the face of ever-increasing competition. The value, development and retention of human capital has become the next aspect of business that organizations seek to define and manage to their benefit. It also links education and business as never before.

Human capital refers to the value residing within the individuals of the organization. Production workers know their jobs well and call attention to problems that arise rather than turning out products of inferior quality. Operational managers treat well those reporting to them and regard their own roles as providing workers with all they need to accomplish the tasks assigned to them. Senior management seeks to enhance the value resident within the human capital of the organization, and training provides a means of achieving this enhancement.

Training existing employees is straightforward. Certainly the organization needs to ensure that its training activities are relevant and transportable to individuals' specific jobs, but it can regularly assess the value of its training programs and alter those programs where and when necessary.

Contributing to continuing education likely is the easiest approach to building human capital. If the organization helps with tuition costs and ensures that the employee has sufficient free time to make the most of continuing education opportunities, then the organization benefits from the individual's choice of how to spend hours away from work. Alternatively, organizations developing and conducting their own training programs have greater control over content and can tailor training activities to precisely fit their own needs.

Business organizations must ensure that they become and remain employers of choice. Being an organization where "everyone" wants to work not only helps to retain developing human capital, it also helps the organization to attract valuable sources of human capital in the future. Training has long been recognized as a benefit (Clark, 1992).