Online learning had been active in the United States of America for approximately two decades, but got modest enrollment as people preferred the traditional face-to-face lectures.
However, in the recent times, America has witnessed the enrolment of online degrees soar, as more and more universities capitalize on this surge. By 2013, more than 7 million students took up online courses, translating to 35 percent of the total number of students enrolled in higher education. According to a study conducted in the United States dubbed “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States”; the number of universities offering online courses has risen to approximately 62.4 percent for colleges surveyed in 2012 compared to just 32.5 percent in 2002. This showed that the number of colleges offering online courses has not only doubled, but has been as a result of increased enrolment.
For the purpose of clarification, online learning involves at least 80 percent of the course content conveyed online. In case there are face-to face meetings, such meetings are minimal, otherwise most or all of the content is delivered online. The traditional face-to-face lectures normally have 0 percent of information delivered online. Learning is mostly done orally or in writing. However when 1 to 29 percent of the course content is delivered online, this form of learning is referred to as the web facilitated course. The web-based technology is used to facilitate what had already been learnt in the traditional face-to-face mode. Lastly, there is the blended or the hybrid kind course whereby the course blends the face-to-face delivery with the online course; with 30 to 79 percent of the content being delivered on the online mode.
In Kenya, online course have also been on offer, but mainly from the international universities such as, Penn State World Campus, University of Florida Distance Learning, Boston University, and Washington State University Global Campus; to name just a few. Previously, employers were very skeptical about the quality of online degrees due to the fact that the students completed a degree program and graduated through just the use of a little more than a laptop and internet connection. However, this is beginning to change particularly when major universities such as MIT launched their own online degree courses.
Kenyan universities have not been left behind, in the quest for online degrees, with major Kenyan universities such as Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, University of Nairobi, Egerton University and many more taking the stage. The major appeal to the online courses is its affordability and flexibility especially with regards to the student’s pocket and schedule respectively. Therefore more students who are far away from their preferred university can still learn in that same university.
Nonetheless, since this mode of learning uses virtual classrooms, universities are able to enroll even more students compared to those in traditional face-to-face lectures in a particular course, at a lower cost. Therefore universities have used this mode as a way to boost their financial standing rather than a way to ensure more and more people are able to access higher education.
For that reason, who is the main beneficiary of these online courses? Is it the student or the universities? Are the online sessions as effective as the traditional face-to-face lectures? Inasmuch as our Kenyan Universities have gone out to commercialize higher education, it should be with great caution that they undertake online education with the aim of upholding the standards of education were it to continue the traditional way.
As it is, most Universities’ online courses are similarly structured to those of traditional face-to-face classes. Moreover, the courses run on a similar schedule, cover similar material corpus, represent the same number of credit hours and are guided by a single faculty member, who directly interacts with the students. When such a course design is put in place, it places additional demands on the faculty teaching them. In case these demands are not met; those graduating from online courses will feel somewhat inferior to the students who went through the face-to-face courses; their potential employers will definitely question the course credibility.
Universities should take time and analyze the categories of courses that are effectively delivered through this mode. Caution has to be taken on the design and implementation of these courses particularly the types of support services that could be attached to them such as online tutorials or call centers. However, not all students qualify for this mode of learning as it requires a lot of self discipline, an attribute more coherent in mature learners as well as better prepared students. When all these factors are put into play, employer’s attitude which has been negative towards candidates from online courses will surely make a turn around to being positive…and the end result? Both the student as well as universities shall be great beneficiaries of the online courses.