Monday, September 20, 2010

Online Learning Gains Acceptance

I was amused to see re-surface, via Twitter, an article I wrote 6 years ago called Online learning: A smart way to nurture gifted kids. I was making the case that since every community doesn't have a great school for gifted kids, online learning can fill in the gaps.

I suppose, writing that piece in 2004, I would have thought that this would be old news by 2010. But online learning is still in its infancy, even in postsecondary education, where colleges have discovered a real need. For adults with jobs and kids, it is hard to get to a classroom at a certain time. Online learning lets people study at night and on weekends. And with available technology, interaction is certainly no worse than in a lecture hall.

On the plus side for online learning, a new survey done by the Society for Human Resource Management finds that HR folks are getting their heads around degrees earned online. A full 79 percent had hired someone in the last 12 months who earned his/her degree online. Most disagreed with the statement that people with traditional degrees had more self-discipline, or better time management skills. There were some reservations, of course. A large minority thought that online degrees were less credible, and in some cases, there may be reasons for that. All degree programs should concern themselves with metrics like persistence to graduation, job placement, etc.

Why do I find this growing acceptance encouraging? Mostly because online degree programs are a great way for gifted students to start college courses early. If you are 12, sitting in a college classroom can feel intimidating, even if you understand everything that's going on (and your parents may worry about sending you). But distance/virtual learning allows us to do away with these barriers, in the same way that social networks and online communities bring us together with people who are different ages, ethnicities, who have differing physical abilities, etc. There are places for both, and I'm glad I earned my college degree in person. But if there is growing acceptance, then more students who start such coursework early can transfer their credits and finish college earlier should they decide to attend in person later. And more acceptance means more supply -- which is good for giving gifted students more options.

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