Education in America has lurched online. Bottom to top, reviews of the experience have been unpleasant, a predictable development that may shift the perception of the multi-billion dollar online education industry. It probably has already.
At the college level specifically, where online is more common and where most of the money is, the signs are ominous.
First, the pipeline of future learners is being contaminated before our eyes.
One survey of mostly primary-level teachers, released late last month, showed that most of them were, “not prepared to facilitate remote learning.” That’s not a good long-term indicator of outcomes.
Even worse, another survey, this one by the school ranking service Niche, showed that high school students are basically hating the online learning experience. Asked if this brush with online schooling has made them more likely to consider online learning in the future, 77% said no, most of those (41%) were a strong no. Less than 8% said yes.
Asked to rate the sentence, “I find online classes as effective as in-person classes,” a bracing 72% of high school students in the Niche survey disagreed. Eleven percent agreed. And that only set the bar at “as good as.” It did not even ask if they were better.
For those in college already, the transition to online learning has been no better. By a two to one margin (55% to 27%), most college students say this experience learning online has not made them “more likely to consider online education in the future,” according to Niche. Two-thirds of current college students disagreed that online classes were “as effective” as in-person ones, just 15% agreed they were.
Those are surprising numbers, especially considering that about 15% of college students already took their classes entirely online. They’re staggering numbers when you consider that online education companies have spent billions of dollars – no exaggeration – convincing schools and the public that online was just as good as in person.
If your job, or your company, depends on convincing current and future college students – and colleges – that online education is good, that’s some cold water indeed. If your revenue model depends on the idea that online education is a viable alternative to traditional classroom education, that it’s somehow going to replace it, you may need to recalibrate your approach because it’s going to be difficult to refute an argument that goes, “we tried it, we hated it.”
For online education providers that sell online products and services to colleges, that recalibration may already be underway.
John Katzman, who’s founded three education companies including two successful online education providers, inferred as much in a recent interview. While he described himself as a “fierce proponent of online education” and offered that online education was “a better mousetrap” for graduate students and adult learners, he said, “traditional undergraduate 18 year-olds have a dramatically better experience on campus.” He openly asked whether, if a school starts this coming year online, they should be charging for room and board and full tuition for, “an experience that’s not as good.”
Understand, online education leaders don’t say things like that. At least they never have.
Instead, in light of the very recent experience of schools racing online and students and teachers being unhappy with the experience, Katzman framed the future of online college education as essential, but as more of a backup than a daily alternative or competitive replacement.
It’s compelling framing.
“People were caught by surprise,” Katzman said, “including colleges and universities that did not have competent online strategies.” That was somewhat forgivable, according to Katzman. This time. “Anybody who gets caught by surprise again, who does not have a really good online infrastructure is negligent. You just can’t – there’s no second mulligan on this.”
In other words, online education evangelists may be better to position the ongoing onslaught of negative reviews as a failure in planning and preparation while selling their wares as an insurance policy against the future disruptions, that are bound to happen. After all, when traditional classrooms can’t be that way, the only alternative to online is nothing. Embracing that reality, getting schools to think about and prepare for life without a campus may be smart business. If nothing else, it’s smart messaging.
What isn’t likely to be as smart is continuing to insist that online classes and programs are just as good, or better than face-to-face ones. There’s never been any evidence of that. In fact, this forced transition is the first time that students who did not choose to study online have had to, eliminating the self-selection bias of previous surveys of online learners. Those surveys, touted by online schools and companies, have generally said online students are happy with their choices – what else would we expect them to say?
And, true, these results we’re getting now aren’t scientific either. But, at the same time, they’re not subtle.
There are two major, very rough transitions happening right now. There’s the shift to online education. Then there’s the shift in what we people think about it, or what we’re learning about what people think about it. Both are going to have significant, long-term consequences for education and the business of education.
- Education notebook – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
- California – Ravenwoode: Offering appreciation to health, education officials – Lake County News
- Education News – Texarkana Gazette
- US Department of Education Releases “COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs” | US – U.S. Department of Education
- The more you learn, the more you earn: education and poverty alleviation in Thailand – UN News
- Dep’t of Education issues emergency order waiving test requirement for seniors, series of adjustments – Florida Politics
- D.C. mayor proposes boost in education spending as she calls on schools to fully reopen in the fall – The Washington Post
- Faculty invited to apply to General Education Scholar Program | Penn State University – Penn State News
- US Department of Education Announces More Biden-Harris Appointees | US – U.S. Department of Education