Q&A: What's Missing From Online Learning?

Answer: It seems obvious that online programs won't have sports teams or fraternity parties, but as far as education itself, there are several things that online educational programs can miss out on, and most of them relate to interaction with others in the school community. Traditional programs offer everything from study abroad programs to food fairs, and it is hard to replicate those things online. They are a lot of what create school spirit, and can help keep people from dropping out. These activities also tie students to their physical community, which means more options for things like service (charity work, etc.). Finally, traditional schools tend to have more extended projects with other students or faculty. These range from informal reading groups to hands-on workshops: printmaking, publishing school newspapers, magazines, archiving oral histories, etc.

That said, this is balanced by many ways that online students interact, many of which are supported by savvy online programs. For example, Central Michigan sends a daily email newsletter about what's going on throughout the program. Many online programs make a point of offering residencies, or travel abroad programs, and some set up international online classroom projects that would be difficult to do in the traditional classroom. Finally, online classes are already engaging in virtual teaming, which they'll have to do extensively in the emerging economy. This often includes collective authorship and collaboration at a distance. These skills can benefit students who wil have to engage in similar team dynamics in the workplace. Some schools do more with teams online, specifically to give practice in virtual teaming.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.