When talking about “school,” traditionally images of a classroom with desks filled with students is what comes to mind.
Yet in a world where technology allows us to communicate across the globe in seconds, this image becomes less the reality and more of a representation of a feeling that the virtual community hopes to recreate. And they’re going all-in.
Education has long been synonymous with a place that you go to. There is a school–a university, a college–with a classroom that you enter and are taught by a teacher while in the company of your peers. For some subjects, it’s collaborative; for others, it’s hands-on; for others still, it’s informative. But regardless, for many, it’s restrictive.
Especially in the United States, education can be a restrictive endeavor. Largely the product of money and time, attending an educational institute is not accessible for a great number of the population. Working a full time job and raising a family does not allow for the luxury of sitting in a classroom for a hours a day, because those hours add up to lost wages, lost time at home, and lost financial savings.
In this sense, online education is filling a much needed void in the advancement of our population. But the savior that is virtual learning also comes with its drawbacks.
For-profit universities are nothing new. We’ve been watching their commercials during daytime television for years and wondering if it really could be that easy to take a few classes and walk away armed with a diploma and head straight into the high-paying job of our dreams.
These for-profit universities were some of the first to jump on the bandwagon of accessible, online education and their marketing ploys–via television, mailings, and online ads–offered huge promises which, for many who applied, have had a demonstrated low ROI. In spite of that fact, the promise of convenience allowed for skyrocketing enrollment.
But before we get too dismal, there are plenty of accredited online universities offering classes and degrees. And, as it became clear the trend of online learning is not disappearing anytime soon, many traditional universities have begun offering hybrid online-traditional learning experiences and, for some, entirely online programs. Further still, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have started appearing in the form of Coursera and the like, and many traditional universities are offering course material through these websites for a much lower price (or even free) than it would cost to attend the university.
Though the proliferation of online learning might make it seem like the no-brainer choice, there is still an extensive list of pros and cons to consider when choosing a path to education.
It’s also worth considering that there are some programs that will never make the online jump (e.g. medical school, law), some that are predisposed to succeed in an online setting (e.g. technology and digitally focused degrees), and many others that would benefit from a hybrid set-up.
In my opinion, traditional learning environments will never become obsolete and, combined with much needed updating (be it politically or practically), I don’t think they should. In that same vein, online learning’s effectiveness shouldn’t be discounted because it doesn’t take place in a classroom, but it also shouldn’t be elevated above traditional education merely because it is more accessible. Ultimately, better education should be the end-goal for any teaching institute; if traditional institutes continue to compete with online institutes and vice versa for higher enrollment, higher completion rates, and higher rated programs, the advantage belongs to the education-seeker.
That said, responsible marketing for either type of educational setting needs to focus on the education-seeker and the returns they can expect from the programs offered. Where there is opportunity there is risk, and that risk is entirely in the seeker’s hands. If educational institutes promote personal and professional growth, and provide a picture of what to expect, the seeker can adequately determine which path will be best for them. Some schools may lose prospects that others may gain, but honesty about an entity’s offerings will allow for the transparency for students to choose the best program for them, with the best path for completion, which will ultimately send education providers the best pool of students enrolled in a given program and could allow for their best completion numbers to report to their boards.
No matter the path chosen, the main question should always be: What’s best for YOU?