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Norton R. Nowlin

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Certainly, we live in a new century. Unfortunately, everywhere on our planet, humankind betrays a widespread distressing situation, confusion, perplexity, a lack of conta..  
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A Short Treatise on Online Learning
by Norton R. Nowlin   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2008

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Is online learning all it's cracked-up to be? I don't think so.

After participating in the provocative process myself, I can say with assurance that, generally, online distance learning for academic credit is certainly not what it has been sensationalized to be within the last decade.   Some noted colleges and universities are, for some reason, promoting online learning as a viable alternative to traditional classroom attendance leading to advanced degrees.  Yet, I consider an advanced course in, for example, municipal government taught, via computer, to an online graduate student, living in Virginia, by a university professor in Pennsylvania, or some other state, as more of an experiment in independent self-learning than anything else.  That is, unless the learning session is interactive, by web-cam, for a certain timed period every day, in order for the student to see, and directly ask questions, of the professor, and get prompt answers to those questions.  But thatís not the way it usually is. 

In most cases, the expectant graduate student enrolls in an online course, purchases expensive textbooks and resource materials through the mail, or at the university bookstore, and only corresponds with the professor through the university email network connection.  The actual tuition for such an online graduate course may be as much as, or more than, 900 dollars, which, in fact, is greater than tuition for most regular class-room courses.  Generally,  after a written online introduction from the professor, and a posted syllabus, the student is usually assigned to read selections from the prescribed textbook, and the provided resource material, and from what the professor posts online, in order to prepare for the online examinations, mostly multiple-choice (though some, very few, are essay-type).  Essentially, the student is virtually free to study whenever, and wherever, convenient, and is further instructed to post questions about the cyber-lessons via email, which are hardly-ever answered in a timely fashion, and to the studentís satisfaction, by the professor.  This is because the instructor, frequently an associate, or assistant university professor (hopefully a PhD), is teaching, perhaps, three-or-more online courses while holding-down, during the same period of time, two-or-three regular classroom courses. 

During the summer of 2004, during which I endured an accredited online, post-baccalaureate, course in legal ethics from a noted college in the state of Washington, only two of my many submitted questions about the course material were properly answered, via email, by the instructor, an attorney-professor residing in Wisconsin.  The examinations were all open-book and multiple-choice, and I made an overall ďAĒ grade in the course.  Nevertheless, as a certified masterís-level teacher, I perceived that the examinations were actually designed to be passed by the student with ease.  Thank goodness for my own personal readings, and study, in the subject area, which I had completed prior to taking the course as a requirement.  For I actually didnít learn much, at all, from the online experience.  This is why I believe that most online courses, which lead to an accredited advanced degree, are successfully completed more through the studentís independent study, than from the information conveyed by the instructor, unseen and unheard, sitting behind a desk perhaps hundreds-of-miles away. 

In other words, a person with an earned bachelorís degree could probably purchase required course textbooks from a university bookstore, obtain syllabi from professors teaching particular graduate courses, and spend two-or-more hours every day, during a semester, reading, studying, and annotating the textbooks.  If diligent in the pursuit, the student might possibly derive as much knowledge from his free personal study of the graduate material as that obtainable through expensive online courses.  The basic difference between the two is, of course, that accredited grades, and university credits, are granted for completion of prescribed online courses.   

This leads me to another provocative thought.  If, perchance, a student does not receive, during an online course, the same didactic benefit obtained from having sat regularly in a university classroom, for an entire semester, or quarter, hearing, and watching, a full-professor deliver lectures on, letís say, educational philosophy, why is the same credit given for the completion of such an online course?  Are droves of gullible people actually completing these online programs actually thinking that theyíve obtained the same quality education as that derived from classroom study?  I hope not.  If so, the concept of diploma-mill has taken on a completely new dimension. 

I read, a while back, about a woman who had completed an earned associates degree from a community college, and was, thereafter, slickly persuaded by an impressively advertised online college, state-accredited to hand out diplomas, that she could add all of her vocational life experiences together to equate bachelorís, masterís, and PhD degrees.  So, she paid a legal diploma mill ten-thousand dollars and received, in four months time, her degree diplomas in the mail. 

Surprised she was, on applying for a doctoral-level teaching position at a state university, when told that the diplomas were worthless.  Such flagrant academic deceit is utterly shameful, if not fraudulent.  Nevertheless, a person who has an earned bachelorís degree could probably spend two years arduously studying, on his own, the same books and resource materials used in regular graduate classroom courses, leading to a masterís degree, and come away with knowledge of the discipline equivalent to, or greater than, that obtained by expensive online study.  Learning is learning, and to be academically fair about the matter, examinations should be devised, by state governments, and the private sector, which would allow independent learners to demonstrate their self-attained academic expertise.  If Abraham Lincoln, the paradigm of independent learners, were around today, he would probably agree with me.  A feasibly proper start for such an equivalency would be to offer independent learners the opportunity to take, and pass, the same type of objective final examination offered to online students.  I sincerely believe that such an experiment in graduate learning would prove, beyond a doubt, that most online graduate courses are not what they are cracked-up to be.  And if such is true for online graduate courses, it is probably equally true , if not true r, for online undergraduate courses.

If anything, there appears to have been a skewing shift in the heuristic approach, by academia, in establishing credibility for attained academic professionalism.  In a nutshell, when there are more, less-qualified, people touting their, supposedly genuine, academic credentials attained from accredited universities, there occurs a significant decrease in the value of the academic work product.  The big-name state, and private, universities are the source of most of the graduate students obtaining professional degrees via online study.  In fact, the federal executive branch, and the military, have used federal tax money to establish online educational institutions for the benefit of their civilian, and GI, employees.   Further, while online graduate study is not usually preferred by the exceptional, traditionally geared, graduate student, only a very small number of the numerous online graduates attain knowledge, and an accompanying wisdom, equivalent to traditional graduate classroom training.  The greater number enter government and the private-sector with only a diploma in-hand, and a dearth of essential knowledge and wisdom.   This greatly devalues the individuals with the genuine credentials, who are able to provide the greatest, and most efficient, professional, and academic, services.  Since the mid-1990s, there has been a profound glut of under-qualified masterís and doctoral-level online graduates hired to fill the ranks of working professionals, especially in government bureaucracy, and this is terribly tragic. 

In the long-run, I believe that education, attained for no other reason than for the sheer joy of learning, is rapidly disappearing, and that job-specific degree programs are becoming the standard rule.  It used to be that a person went to college to get the advanced education, for which high school whetted a voracious appetite for increased knowledge.  It was much like when learning to read led directly to a personal motivation for reading to learn.  But now, more young people, than not, are leaving high school academically unprepared for higher learning, and are eventually seeking courses of least resistance by going to colleges and universities to get a job, instead of a well-balanced liberal education.  Essentially, an online degree might readily proclaim that the student has successfully attained a greatly increased level of knowledge of the basic academic skills, such as disciplinary reasoning, language vocabulary, writing, mathematics, an understanding of human history and government, and, of course, reading for research purposes.  Nonetheless, online graduate, and undergraduate, studentsí performances, as individual productive citizens, in-and-out of the various workplaces, show quite differently the exact opposite. 

In summation, for non-traditional distance learning to be effective, the self-reliant  motivations, and aspirations, of the individual students must be exceedingly greater than those of the typical classroom student, in order to learn with a minimum of instruction.  They must reflect the goal expressed by the great Greek philosopher, Socrates, when he quipped to one of his students, ďWhen you want to learn as badly as a drowning person wants a reviving breath of fresh air, then, and only then, can I teach you what you want to know.    Merely following a vague routine of online course requirements, and, subsequently, receiving a piece of paper showing graduation from a particular online college or university, are not really enough to substantially prove that a person is academically proficient.               



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