Most people don’t realize that online schooling is over 30 years old. Electronic University Network was the first online university in 1986. This was before the invention of the World Wide Web, so few students were enrolled.
Over the past decade, online education has become much more common. In 2015, over 6 million people were enrolled in at least one online course. They represented over 29% of all college students. The popularity of online education continues to grow every year, even though enrollment at for-profit institutions has fallen for three years in a row. Most virtual students are enrolling at private, nonprofit universities.
While online-only universities are gaining ground, they still have their drawbacks that other online learning platforms can fill.
Where do online colleges fall short?
Many professionals in academia have lauded online education. They point out that online colleges make it easier for students in rural and otherwise remote areas to pursue an education.
However, there are several issues with online universities, beyond the credibility concerns of certain for-profit institutions. Here are several of the biggest.
Emphasis on theory over practicality
A growing number of critics have argued that regardless of where the classes take place, college doesn’t prepare students for the real world. Eric Duffy, CEO of Pathgather shared the following thoughts on the topic.
“Do you think university prepared you for your workplace and ‘real’ world? No… The traditional thinking has been that college is a time and place to develop an area of expertise, figure out a career path, and prepare for it. The idea is that those four years are your chance to develop the skills needed so that when you enter the workforce, you’re prepared. That model is outdated.”
Part of the problem is that college instructors often dedicate their career to academia. They understand the theory behind their field of study, but don’t understand how those concepts can be applied in the real world.
This issue actually seems to be less of a concern in online universities than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, because they are more likely to hire part-time instructors who still work in their fields of study. However, it is still a concern as more online schools seek full-time faculty that haven’t practiced in their field for years.
Material covered is often obsolete
I was part of a professional group for web developers a few years ago. A local community college consulted with us to improve their curriculum. They acknowledged that their web development courses still covered Flash, which had been obsolete for close to a decade. Similar issues have been discovered at online schools as well.
This is another consequence of hiring faculty members who have not practiced in their fields for at least a few years. They aren’t up-to-date with the changing landscapes of their industries, so they teach outdated methods and theories to their students.
How new online learning platforms are filling the void
A new generation of online learning platforms has offered solutions to some these challenges. These platforms are typically organized by either marketplace platforms or independent experts who charge a monthly subscription or one-time access fee. They don’t have the same bureaucracy as online colleges.
These courses tend to cover more specialized and practical courses than those provided in a traditional online university curriculum. They tend to focus more heavily on specialized topics, such as teaching people how to run a coaching business or how to install a bathtub in their home.
They can be great for professionals to fine-tune their skillsets and learn things that aren’t covered in the classroom. Lawyers can signup for online courses that cover competencies that they never picked up in law school.
Kajabi co-founder Kenny Rueter believes that these online learning centers are also helpful for people trying to start non-traditional careers that online colleges aren’t equipped to cover.
“The world is changing too fast for the dinosaurs in academia to keep up with,” Rueter says. “People are pursuing self-defined careers as YouTube creators, bloggers and cryptocurrency investors. You won’t find courses to help get people ready for careers like those in a traditional college setting, even if it is online. Knowledge Commerce platforms can fill the void.”
Online learning centers also cover courses on more mundane, but equally important topics. You won’t find any college courses that teach people how to renovate their homes. Online learning centers offer these courses, which can be highly beneficial for people that don’t know where to find them elsewhere.
The best of both worlds
Online colleges do still have their place. They are helping millions of people start new careers and find new ways to live their lives. However, they don’t cover the full gamut of skills that people need to learn to be successful in their careers or in life. Hubs of elearning are helping to fill that void.