By Scott Hibbard, September 2015
Online education has grown in popularity over the last two decades for those needing or wanting an alternative to brick-and-mortar institutions. However, some myths and unfortunate assumptions exist about the quality of online education, perceived ease of coursework, the quality of online instructors, and the belief that instructors are easily circumvented by complaints.
Institutional and Program Quality
Quality can be differentiated in terms of accreditation and perception. Regional accreditation should always be researched when selecting an online institution to attend. Regional accreditation standards are regarded as more rigorous than national accreditation standards. Accreditation seeks to qualify a variety of student and institutional-performance outcomes with the purpose of validating what has or has not worked and identifying areas for improvement which the institution should strive to exceed.
An institution can have regional accreditation but may not necessarily have name recognition. This doesn't mean that a 'less famous' institution is a bad institution. In fact, a less-famous institution may be more cost effective and still provide quality higher education programs. In other words, 'brand' and expense for their own sake are value judgments that have little to do with quality.
I am a technologist but I hesitate to throw technology at problems unless I'm reasonably certain technology won't create new problems like busy-work from fiddling around with the supposed 'fix'. I found that citation management software can be a real time saver. I happen to use EndNote. However, using citation management software in no way implies that the student won't have to learn APA style. More frequently than not citation management software imperfectly cites sources which means the student has to know enough APA to correct citation errors.
Online Education is Easy
A regionally-accredited institution cannot offer an 'easy track' for online students if they intend to remain regionally accredited. Course content and expectations of students in online programs should meet or exceed the standards set for students attending brick-and-mortar classrooms. The technological nature of online programs may also require online students to cultivate personal management skills that brick-and-mortar students may lack. The demand for personal management skills is magnified in online graduate programs where grad students are expected not only to be more independent than undergrads but also to develop into subject matter experts in their field of study.
Instructors are a Pushover
Online instructors typically possess at least a master's degree in the field in which they teach. I've encountered instructors who may hold multiple masters (across related fields) or doctoral degrees. Doctoral-degreed instructors may be specialists (attorneys holding a JD for example) or they are PhDs who teach the advanced courses in the program class sequence. Instructors are experts training future experts and it is in their interest to be fair graders but they will not be easy graders.
Dear Instructor, Johnny's Mom Does Not Approve of Your Grading
Yes, you read that right. Parental browbeating of instructors to reconsider/change student grades is not unusual at the undergrad level. Online and brick-and-mortar college instructors I know report the phenomenon with some frequency and it is hardly new. I personally observed the following example in an online bachelors program that I attended (and graduated from with Honors).
The context appeared to have been a student complaining to Mom about a low paper grade. The phenomenon was made public when Mom used the in-class messaging system to message her displeasure to the entire class (mistakenly, I presume) rather than sending a private message to the instructor. One student responded publicly with a remarkably polite if scathing reply.
Online education is an alternate path toward higher education for those willing to invest time, effort, and money to learn. Serious introspection, assessment of personal interests, and research of regionally-accredited online education options are all important factors of success. Online education can also help address remedial education needs but it should not be regarded as a parental safety net. Higher education requires personal effort and commitment whatever the form.
Best of luck in your future studies!
About the Author
Scott Hibbard is a second-year Utica College ECM Grad Student (ABT). He is scheduled to submit his ECM thesis by December 2015.