December 9, 2009

Online grandiosity failed, so get back to work

So U21 Global looks like it's failing, after the dumping of U of I Global and the morphing of Western Governors from the "we're going to conquer the world through online enrollments" stage into the "we'll settle for 10,000 students based on a Netflix model of tuition with half of our students in teacher ed" stage.

This is not the death of online education, which exists at virtually every institution of some size. Nor is it the death of scaled-up online education, since there are several outfits, notably the K-12 Florida Virtual School, which appear to have done just fine at a large size. So what's made the difference between the thriving programs and the dying programs?

  • Thriving programs serve specific purposes. Florida Virtual School is not trying to conquer the world. It addresses a few specific needs, notably providing catchup classes, a few basic requirements that many students would like to "get out of the way" to take other classes they prefer face-to-face, and some opportunities unavailable in smaller districts. The fact that thousands of students in Florida find those valuable is related to the size of Florida, not a lack of specific planning on the part of the Florida Virtual School's administration.
  • Thriving programs have stable (and nurtured) feeder relationships. An online program within a university can develop constituencies much more easily than Vague Global Program, and the Florida Virtual School has cultivated or taken advantage of a number of ways that students find out about its strengths (as far as I can tell, from other students and from counselors).
  • Thriving programs have staff and teachers in a relationship modeled on bricks-and-mortar schooling. Florida Virtual School has made a point of explaining its acceptability in part because it has a dedicated staff and faculty "just like" the local public school down the street. As far as I can tell, thriving online programs within universities tend to treat faculty teaching online like other faculty, largely because they are faculty in regular departments and because the hiring patterns for full-time faculty normatively follow departmental patterns. How many ads in the Chronicle have job positions in an "online" department as opposed to a position in anthropology, economics, marketing, etc.?

What appears to have died is online grandiosity, and that's a good thing.

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Posted in Higher education on December 9, 2009 6:06 AM |