By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO, University of the Potomac

One of the most revolutionary things to happen to higher education in the last half century was the introduction and widespread acceptance of online education.  I can remember the first online course I taught was in 1989 – yes 1989 and it was taught using Prodigy dial up connections with white words on a blue screen.  (If you are under thirty, please trust me that the technology has come a LONG way since then.)  While the course lacked the “bells and whistles” that are available today, it was a valuable learning experience for the students in the class.  In many ways, it was more difficult than a traditional classroom because everything had to be conveyed by written word and there were no subtle cues like facial expressions or tone of voice to help convey meaning.  So the 10 or so MBA students I taught at that time had to work twice as hard to make sure their meaning was crystal clear before hitting that send button.

The benefits to the students were clear – they had work and professional lives that made it nearly impossible to go to school at a traditional institution.  The convenience of the asynchronous platform resonated with those adult students with challenging calendars.  (I of course heard more than once that it was nice to be able to attend courses late at night in pajamas!)

Today, we have an entire industry devoted to online learning and many institutions are involved in providing online courses.  Yet, many institutions fail to realize that merely “electrifying” what goes on in a traditional classroom, is not enough.  We cannot just toss some powerpoint presentations online and call it a day.  The real value of online learning is in the interaction among the students and faculty.  Small class size, combined with engaging discussion questions are critical to getting the most out of the online environment.  Students need to be actively involved and the institution must do everything it can to bring all necessary supporting resources to the student’s desktop.

For more information on the effectiveness of online learning, I would encourage you to visit nosignificantdifference.org.