Going the Distance – A Reflection on a Survey

Two issues I found interesting in this survey Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States (2011) were the findings with respect to strategic planning (in higher ed institutions) that did not include online education and the statistics related to how institutions are choosing to prepare faculty for teaching online.

Regarding the question of strategic planning, I am amazed that although two-thirds of the CEOs responded that online learning was critical to the long term strategy, less than half of the respondents at public institutions are actually including it in the campus strategic plan. (Allen & Seaman, 2011, p. 10).   If my community college is typical of what is happening across the nation in terms of shake-out from the Great Recession, then we may begin to see decreasing enrollments as jobs recover and unemployment goes down. The majority of our students now fit into the non-traditional student profile – they go to school part-time and work part-time or full-time. These types of students who do decide to enroll need flexibility in their schedules as they try to balance work, family and an education. Especially at the community college level, I think online education, in all its various forms, can help provide more access to learning for these types of students. The institutions that carefully and strategically plan for how and what they will deliver in terms of online education will continue to exist and may even thrive in some areas or programs. Those institutions that label online education as just another program that is a supplemental activity to traditional classroom teaching will not do so well. If students can’t get the courses and schedules they need at our college, they WILL find them somewhere else.

The other issue I found interesting was the growth in internal training programs for online teaching faculty over the two year period from 2009 to 2011. 72% of all institutions with online offerings are now conducting training for their faculty; this is up from 59% in 2009. (Allen & Seaman, 2011, p. 19). I’m especially interested in this because as the instructional designer for my college’s district, I will be heavily involved in professional development, informal tutoring and internal training specifically targeting online teaching. Also interesting is the pattern of online, blended and face-to-face  training experiences that are being used to support faculty who are making a transition to online teaching. It mirrors what I am seeing at our college in terms of a population of faculty who want a face-to-face workshop to help “get them on their way” and then access to informal consultation from an instructional designer or colleague who can help them customize content and design to their specific courses. I think we are on the right path to providing enough support for now, but  see a need in the future for additional support for faculty who may want to advance beyond the basics or use emerging technologies to enhance their courses.

References

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2011). Going the distance: Online education in the United States, 2011. Babson Survey Research Group.  Retrieved from:http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/goingthedistance.pdf