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Jack Vazzana, PhD
Kent State University, East Liverpool, Ohio

I have never met a student that liked an online course. They say the courses are boring and not difficult. Granted, students come to me for counseling and those that I have talked to may be a biased sample, but it IS a sample that suggests problems. Sure, most students find school boring to some extent, but not in the overwhelming frequency and amplitude as those associated with online courses. Keller (1968) has suggested if students are not given beneficial reinforcement techniques they will soon move past their teachers to something else. In contemporary times, information technology has stepped in (or pandered) and provided that bypass access. Online courses lure students with the bait of quick and easy education. The emphasis is no longer quality, but speed and convenience. Of course it is overlooked that very little of what people achieve is neither easy nor quick! Nevertheless, the contemporary diploma based in online technology, in terms of academic excellence, is minimal credentialism. This only speeds up graduation and hurls the former student into a large education debt and possibly years of meaningless employment. So, let us take a look at information technology as it applies to online courses and its implementation, teaching and beyond in terms of generation X'ers.

How we come to know who we are is important for the development of personality because it sets the tone for quality people. This is facilitated through face-to-face interaction and personal reflection. Online courses are NOT face-to-face and, under these circumstances, it is questionable if the online student can pragmatically apply the course content! In fact, lacking face-to-face reinforcement, most online students do poorly in presentations and retain little information once exams are over! Business execs today are starting to critique the online graduate for not being able to interact positively with customers and other employees. There is some suggestion this can be directly attributed to the lack of face-to-face dialogue.

The paucity of feedback from an authoritative source, as a teacher, leaves open the possibility of pragmatic learning being suspect as below standard. In other words, the person's self, having been built from online experience, is devoid of critical comments on the quality and accuracy of their learning because there was little teacher feedback when it was most developmentally needed. There was no interactional reality check. The student, under these circumstances, can develop any aberrant self they choose including a virtual self that has little to do with vocational reality and more their out-of-touch fantasies.

The constructors and publishers of online courses capitalize on the increasing gap and rising virtual reality based on student caprice and solipsistic goals.  The classroom, as an academic environment, becomes a thing of the past being superceded by consumer capitalism. Enter information technologists thriving on such ideas as "time efficiency" and "convenience" bypassing the idea of knowledge. Money becomes more important than learning to the purveyors of online "education". They know the propaganda line that "learning can be turned into a quick process" which appeals to the student cohort. Couple this with the student experiencing ambient economics as limited in opportunities and the online masquerade continues. 

Free from  traditional classroom pedagogy, the online constructor thinks not of individuals, but aggregates. Individual needs are not only a thing of the past, but a reality online courses find impossible to address. A math instructor at a large university was questioned about the possibility that there are some subjects, as math, that are a propos to online classes. After all 2+2=4 right? No problem nor are face-to-face dynamics needed here. Actually, the math person said that was incorrect. It is not the mechanics, but the understanding of math that is important. If one has difficulty comprehending the old "when will the train arrive" problem, they have to have an instructor there at the moment to guide them through in understanding the math or they will lose interest in the process. Online education provides no pro-active human response to help in understanding and solving immediate learning difficulties. Online courses are of the "here and now" as opposed to learning which builds and is concerned with the individual's future. A part of this problem goes back to mid-Twentieth Century and the development of fast-food restaurants which gave rise of the "throw-away society".  Like online education, the "throw-away society" is justified by profit, but profit does not see or is interested in the future.

However, some online students do say they learn a lot, but what do they learn? They sure did not learn how to handle a situation where they are wrong and have to defend or defer to other's ideas. They did not learn to defend their ideas when the defense itself may be a gateway to a better career or job interview. What is suggested here is that online learning is about the system, not the student. The information technologist says, "Click here, click there and you will learn - it is that easy!" A compelling statement, yet not about constructive and creative critical learning - it is more about teaching to the test! Actually, it is really about not teaching at all!

The contemporary teacher is becoming more and more a Master of Ceremonies immersed in online learning requiring little if any academic expertise.  It may also be a problem with that old idea of a "generation gap". The generation Z's attention span has gone down from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds and, with multiple connectivity, 11% are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. (Sparks and Honey 2013) In this light, along with the lack of situational awareness, online education has a case, but is it the tail wagging the dog? This is the challenge in education today. The teacher must improve their craft and be a Greek Siren luring the student back to traditional "chalk and talk" expertise through dynamic presentations and challenging ideas. Free the professor to be a professional emphasizing learning by eliminating the importance of publish or perish which is nothing more than rigorously developing a skill for which there is no demand. Administrations should encourage professional teachers to be informed guides collaborating with students in assisting them to learn on their own terms not bowing to the Information Technologist who proclaims, "Set it and forget it!" IT's often believe they are the Cialis of education. Students should seek out the classroom instead of opting for online courses developing Orwellian clones.

Of course, it is not all negative. Online education can be a valuable adjunct to the employed. The boss sees the worker taking online courses as wanting to improve themselves. This is a good thing. The employed person comes to work, discusses their relevant course applications to their job. This speaks well for the worker and is extremely important for a favorable job evaluation. Eventually they will get a degree and online learning was worth the time and effort. On the other hand, if one discusses that which is learned in an online course with their employer - is that not the same as the relationship between a student and teacher in a traditional classroom? The alternative, however, is just to take online courses as the easy and fast way to get a degree. Which path do you think is the most amenable for that job or promotion? In all fairness, there are some empirical courses lending themselves to online learning. Even still, if I walk into a surgeon's office and see a diploma on the wall from the University of Phoenix, I'm going to get the hell out of there! More importantly, there are exciting concepts that contemporary education poses as the Higgs Boson, each star has planets like the earth and the idea of multiple universes. These and others are the things that dreams and the future are made of. One does NOT develop that kind of creative thinking with online courses - it is not their nature. Choose the "nature" of your education wisely.
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