Re-educating Education

Re-educating Education

© David Burton 2020

Online Learning

     It is being postulated that we can improve our educational system by moving away from the more traditional approaches and instituting new methods – in particular, by utilizing the internet for online teaching. The impetus behind this is the poor results being shown by America’s public and higher education systems in spite of the enormous amount of money being thrown at the problem.

     “According to a report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, global spending on education is $3.9 trillion, or 5.6% of planetary GDP. America spends the most – about $1.3 trillion a year – yet the U.S. ranks 25th out of the 34 OECD countries in mathematics, 17th in science and 14th in reading.” Not a good return on our educational investment! “About a fifth of American 15-year-olds do not have basic competence in science; 23% can’t use math in daily life.” (Ref. 1)

     “Online education isn’t entirely new. In a limited fashion Harvard began offering course material online way back in 1997, Rice University followed suit in 1999 and MIT in 2002. What is new and startling is the scale of these {new online education} enterprises. A single (and rather difficult) electrical engineering course from MIT attracted 155,000 students this past spring {2012}.” (Ref. 1)

     Traditional teaching is based upon the “Prussian model”, which dates to the early 1700’s and was imported into the U. S. by Horace Mann in the mid-19th century. In this model, groups of students attend classes together and are taught by a teacher, who lectures, evaluates, and controls the class. The class learns at one level and all students progress at one rate. With this traditional method of teaching, the purported problem is that “We have a one-size-fits-all, one-speed-fits-all, one-path-fits-all model.” (Ref. 1) Traditional teaching involves students attending class and being taught as a group. Students must be at the same place, at the same time, and learn at the same level and the same speed as the entire class. To some, this is the fundamental problem with traditional education – not all students learn at the same speed and not all students in a classroom are at the same level of learning at any point in time.

     “Online learning is being proposed as the solution to this fundamental problem. With online teaching, the teacher is supported with software programs that can provide one-on-one attention to the student, by having lectures pre-recorded so that the teacher can devote his lecture time to working with students on an individual basis, and by computer-aided evaluation and scoring that reduces the amount of time the teacher would have to spend in grading. With online learning, the student is able to learn at his own pace and at a level consistent with his understanding of what is being taught at any point in time. This applies to both college-level teaching and to grade-school education. With online teaching “students watch lectures and work through problem sets on their own time, at their own pace. Once they prove mastery of a concept, adaptive software will suggest new ones, much like Amazon recommends new books. Teachers are kept abreast of students’ progress through back-end dash-boards. Class time once reserved for lectures would be devoted to mentoring and one-on-one tutoring.” (Ref. 1)

     Many “believe that the future of higher education lies with online learning. Increasingly, colleges and university students now find themselves with other obligations beyond that of getting a degree. Jobs and family commitments make equal demands on their time. Having the option of taking online classes and studying on their own time is critically important. At the same time, many state institutions are unable to accommodate all those who want to take classes on campus, escalating the demand for online learning.
     “Finally, lifelong learning must now be a part of everyone’s career plans. In today’s job market, taking online courses help workers remain competitive and they don’t need to take time off from their jobs to do this.
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     “Students need to determine if online learning is an option for them because not everyone does well with this type of study. Some questions that any potential online students should ask is whether or not they can learn independently; how organized they are with their time; whether they are computer savvy; their level of reading comprehension; and if they have at least ten hours a week to devote to each course.
     “Many make the mistake of assuming that an online class will be easier than one taken in a traditional classroom. Often online instructors assign more reading materials than required in a regular classroom to ensure that students are engaged. Motivation is key to an online student’s success as is his ability to reach out to both instructors and fellow students . . .
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     “. . . online learning has the potential to revolutionize higher education. Students will be able to learn at their own pace and problems as simple as finding a place to park on campus will be eliminated. Public colleges and universities simply cannot build new facilities to accommodate all those who need credits in higher education. In addition, credit hours taken online particularly at a community college are often less expensive. It therefore makes good financial sense for a student to take core courses online at a community college and then transfer those credits to a four year institution.
     “Local businesses can also benefit from online learning. {Some online teaching institutions} work directly with local manufacturing firms to meet their future workforce needs. Online learning not only trains the workers of the future, it can also provide a career path for someone employed, who needs to learn new skills. Employers should recommend online courses that will help with career advancement and, if possible, offer tuition re-imbursement.
     “For online learning to succeed it is also essential that we find and train instructors who can adapt to this new medium. Fortunately, new technology makes it possible for instructors to create exciting new ways to learn online that engage students in ways that are more effective than a lecture hall with hundreds of students.
     “We also need to develop a national transfer pool so that certain online courses can be taken anywhere in the country and then transferred to the student’s home institution. No student should face being shut out of a class he needs to get a degree when he can take the same course online at another institution.
     “Higher education officials need to seek out partnerships with technology companies to ensure that their online learning courses take advantage of all new developments that increase the capacity to learn.” (Ref. 2)

     A “2016 survey found that online undergraduate students are an average of 29 years old and online graduate students are an average of 33, reflecting both the popularity and effectiveness of online programs to help adults meet educational and career goals. Online education is well-suited to older students often balancing education with work, family and other obligations.” (Ref. 3)

     Here are four reasons online education works well for working adults.

     (1) Most online courses are accessible 24/7, 365 days a year, so you can usually study around your work schedule from anywhere in the world. If you’re an older student juggling an education with other responsibilities, this flexibility is ideal. You can do your homework all at once or in nuggets between other obligations.
     (2) Completing online courses from home or your desk at work can help you develop new skills to boost your earning potential. If you were hired straight out of high school, you may find you need a college degree to move into management. Or you may simply want to improve or refresh the skills you already have, or learn job-specific skills to meet the changing needs of your profession.
     (3) You may be surprised by how much more you enjoy your classes than you did when you were younger because in many online courses, you will find other working adults who you can network with and discuss recent experiences. Online education is more practical because you can relate what you learn to the job you do every day and improve your job performance.
     (4) You may want to take online courses to round out your resume so you can compete for completely new positions with your current employer or at another organization. Earning a degree or advanced certificate online can be a great way to reinvent yourself if you are looking to change careers.[3]

     Online learning was a fact before the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. With the catastrophic impact of Coronavirus, the field of education – at all levels from kindergarten to graduate school - has been forced to instantaneously embrace online learning. Education will likely never be the same again.

     “According to the United Nations, school closures in 13 countries to contain the spread of Covid-19 are disrupting the education of 290 million students globally, 'a figure without precedent.’ That has left millions of teachers, administrators, and students at the mercy of online learning, much of which is unfamiliar, and untested at such scale.” (Ref. 4)

     “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced K-12 school districts and universities to close and send students home. This reality has forced a crash course for online learning plans and technology for students and faculty.

     “In many respects, the education industry's move to remote instruction rhymes with the work-from-home move in {today’s workplace}. . .

     And like {today’s changing workplace}, education's giant online education experiment is going to accelerate changes that were already in play.” (Ref. 5)

     Many believe that we are just in the early days of online learning and that the possibilities for re-educating education are limitless.


  1. Reeducating Education, Michael Noer, Forbes, Pages 84-100, 19 November 2012.
  2. The Benefits of Online Learning, Tom Snyder, HUFFPOST, 1 April 2013.
  3. 4 Reasons Online Learning Works Well for Working Adults, Marian Stoltz-Loike, U.S. NEWS, 10 February 2017,
  4. With 290 million kids out of school, coronavirus is putting online learning to the test, Jenny Anderson, QUARTZ,
    5 March 2020.
  5. Online learning gets its moment due to COVID-19 pandemic: Here's how education will change, Larry Dignan, ZDNet, 22 March 2020.

  7 May 2020 {Article 412; Suggestions?_42}    
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