Seaman, Allen, & Seaman (2018) studied trends in distance learning. The researchers found the phenomenon is comprised of three core components: distance education, described as the instructional design including the technologies or learning management system used to deliver instruction to learners; distance learning course, described as the instructional content; and distance education program, described as all coursework required to complete the course. That given, the researchers then separated distance education into three categories: “exclusively distant,” “some but not all” and “at least one” distance education course. Total enrollment in distance education courses decreased by 3.8% 20,928,443 in 2012 at degree-granting colleges and universities. Distance learning enrollment for undergraduates decreased 4.8% from 17,978,048 in 2016 to 17,110,008 in 2016. But, larger public colleges and universities (those with more than 15,000 students) continue to see positive trends in distance education enrollments. Statistics indicate that 68.9% of students enrolled were taking at least one distance education course at a public university. In fact, 299,855 students enrolled in public institutions in 2016 were taking at least one distance education course. Other revealing statistics were that 56.1% of the students enrolled in distance education courses within their state; 84.2% of public institution students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, and 88.3% of these students were enrolled in public institutions within their state (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018).
What this infers is that distance education does have a future. But, that future appears threatened by the lack of understanding, confusing terminologies, and gaps in research.
For instance, confusing and contradicting arguments have not precisely defined what constitutes “online learning,” “digital education” “emerging technologies” “emerging practices,” “adaptive systems:, “self-organizing systems” … What? How can you advocate for something when you don’t even know what to call it (Veletsianos, 2016)? Then there is the argument regarding the driving force. Is it classroom teachers? Institution administration? Policy makers? External stakeholders? Marketing?
Why online? I truly just do not know.
What I do know is that I am in full agreement that additional valid, reliable, and unbiased research is needed. Where are the reliable qualitative and quantitative impact studies and cost-benefit analyses on the conceptual frameworks for distance education (macro level), the management, organization and technologies of distance and online learning (meso level), and teaching and learning in technologies-enhanced or exclusive learning environments (micro level) (Guri-Rosenblit & Gros, 2011)? Where are the observations and scales measuring the relationships between social relativity, social comparison, social contextuality, and social network identities and their connections to relative deprivation theories and inequality (Helsper, 2016)? Did I miss the valid and reliable quantitative research regarding the use of learning technologies to change achievement gaps within the Zone of Proximal Development (Gauvain & Cole, 2009) or the ramification of using technology to create differentiated learning environments (Morgan, 2013)?
In other words, why online? Where is the business case?
I can hardly wait to find out.
Never to late to know better than that!