Distance Learning & Quality

In the recently released issue of Educause Quarterly (Volume 30, Number 2, 2007), Stephen R. Ruth, Martha Sammons and Lindsey Poulin examine the current state of distance learning in an article titled “E-Learning at at Crossroads – What Price Quality?” One of the things that I found very helpful about this article is the section with demographic statistics about online learning enrollment in the U.S. – including the fact that there are about 3 million students (out of 17 million total) enrolled in online programs. While a good portion of these students are studying in community college, approximately 1/3 (or 1 million students) are in graduate programs. The authors then go one to look at several areas that they believe will provide significant challenges to distance programs: use of part-time and non-Ph.D.’d instructors, overall quality of programs, incentives for faculty to teach online programs, faculty productivity and an atmosphere of innovation at the administrative level.

The article is worth a read for anyone interested in distance learning. I can say that I honestly wasn’t aware that some institutions have a great deal of difficulty getting established faculty to teach online – which can often lead to a greater number of adjunct faculty having to teach the online classes. I was also amazed at the number of students taking classes from non-accredited, online programs. This seems to be a large problem – especially for distance business programs where the top three online programs, in terms of enrollment, are not accredited.

These are exciting times in postsecondary education, and there’s probably no issue more significant than the dramatic proliferation of e-learning. The foresight and innovative spirit of academic administrators will determine whether the next few years of e-learning are characterized by discipline, efficiency, and attention to quality—or unbridled growth, decreases in graduation rates, and fragmented service.

Here, they stress the need for an innovative spirit in order for online programs to distinguish themselves. This part caught my attention. Innovation will be the ways the schools and programs distinguish themselves from the crowd. It isn’t enough for schools to take their traditional classes and just put them online. In order to succeed in the long run, online programs need to be better.

Some Thoughts on My Program:

SCSU’s MLS program is accredited by the American Library Association – that much I did check before I applied. Fortunately, there is not a significant percentage of adjunct faculty or instructors versus full-time faculty. So far, all of the classes that I have taken have been taught by full-time, tenured instructors that teach both online and face-to-face classes. However, this was not something that I thought to check before I enrolled. I guess students ought to add these items to the list when exploring and comparing distance programs.

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One Response to Distance Learning & Quality

  1. When I was doing my undergrad, some of my favorite classes were taught by adjunct professors, so I don’t know that I would have a bias against them when it came to looking at schools. I know that my school uses adjunct teachers for cataloging, because they are having trouble finding full time faculty in that area- but my cataloging teacher was great, being, as she is, still immersed in the professional life of a cataloger.

    From the article: “Each adjunct costs about 20 percent (or less) of a full-time counterpart on a per-class basis.”

    That really astounded me. 1/5 of the cost? That makes me think that faculty are over compensated by a great deal. I know there is a lot of administrative stuff that goes into this- like internal grants for research, but that still seems a bit skewed.

    The bit about how much adjuncts are paid really makes me wonder about the cries that librarians aren’t paid enough.

    There’s so much more to address int hat article! I will have to take time later to read it more thoroughly…

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