University Business – Virtual Capacity

A recent article from University Business about using distance learning to manage surging enrollments, explores the possiblities virtual learning can have on an ever increasing enrollment and the implications of creating more of these environments.  It interviews a host of distance learning leaders and focuses on ideas from mulitple schools. 

The article examines four areas that deserve attention as schools increase their online offerings.  Beginning with the man vs. machine idea, all agree that setting up the infrastructure is the easy part to accomodate multiple sections of an online course.  However, having a qualified online teacher trained, hired, and ready to go is more difficult.

Another issue facing faculty and schools is load balancing.  Most faculty agree that teaching an online course takes more time and training than a traditional classroom.   Some schools have a required training course that is required of all online teachers.  Clearly teaching online is very different than face-to-face and thus should be acknowledged.

Course selection should also be a consideration for those growing their online offerings.  Examine what courses work best online.  Some content simply works better virtually than others.  QualityMatters is mentioned in the article as a peer review process of the course delivery methods and content.

Lastly the article illustrates how Taming Technology is essential in making your distance learning program work.  Acknowledging technology is a postitive resource if you have people who can manage it, understand it, and use it effectively.  The same holds true on the other side of the coin.  High tech classes for students who have low technical competencies will cause frustration and result in poor retention.  Some specific tools are mentioned in the article such as READI (online readiness assessment and Kayako (a helpdesk support suite) to help students and administrators.

All parties interviewed agreed that distance learning was popular long before the economic downturn and that continued growth is inevitable.  Recognizing the challenges that come with growing pains will be key to offering quality and convenience in a format that involves qualified instructors and capable students.