“You changed my perceptions of online learning. Before meeting with you, I did not believe online education could be high-quality.” This was a quote I heard last week (not 10 years ago) about my institution and our online programs. I would bet that many of you have heard something similar in your career. Despite the continued growth of online education in a downward-trending higher education market, we still face skepticism (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019).
We often hear proclamations like this from students, their family members, our friends and family, and other academics. What is interesting about the quote I shared is it came from a peer-reviewer on an accreditation review team. Our review team openly admitted to having a bias against online programs before visiting our site. And, to their credit, they were able to put this aside to offer us a fair and appropriate review. However, this entire experience caused me to reflect on my role as an online leader. Specifically, I reflected on the amount of time and effort I spend advocating for accessible and online education.
When I assumed my role as a leader at an online education institution, I assumed most of my time would be spent streamlining processes, ensuring student successes, leading and mentoring my team, and growing my college. I did not think I would spend so much of my time advocating for online education (it is almost 2020 and cars are supposed to fly by now!!). However, advocating for online education is a significant part of my leadership role and I would contend it is everyone’s role, to a certain extent, in online education. Unfortunately, many individuals still believe online education is “less than,” easier, and lacks quality (Graetz, 2019). Thus, it is our role to advocate for the education we love so much. Below are four practical approaches anyone can use when advocating for online education.
Educate. I have learned that many individuals who are skeptical of online education do not understand what online education is. Thus, we can assist in changing this perception by educating skeptics about what an online course entails, how it is structured, and the quality measures that exist in online education. I have also learned that many individuals who are skeptical may have taken or seen an online course twenty years ago; so, educating them on what online education is now is critical.
Demonstrate. Educating skeptics is often not enough; they need to “see it to believe it.” An online course, and especially interaction and quality is often hard to describe to those who can only picture learning taking place in a lecture hall. Because of this, I have learned that I need to demonstrate our courses and support to any and all stakeholders. At my institution, we do this by allowing applicants to “test drive” a course before applying, by having faculty and staff complete all onboarding and training in the learning management system, and by scheduling demonstrations of our courses at the beginning of all accreditation visits. Taking the time to demonstrate the power and quality of online education matters.
Challenge (Kindly, of course). I cannot count the number of times I have had to (kindly) challenge a comment, standard, rule, or assumed practice from an accreditor or state. Unfortunately, many individuals creating these items do not have experience in online education. Because of this, I often take the time to schedule a phone call or meeting with my contact to discuss the concerns I have for online education applications. I kindly challenge the original approach and, as a result, have had success in creating some modifications.
Testify. Our students are usually our best advocates; thus, we can use them to testify for online education. I have learned that allowing students to talk about the quality, accessibility, and rigor of their education is more powerful than me talking about it.
The above four steps are ones that I have used to successfully advocate for online education to various stakeholders. Are these fool-proof and guaranteed to turn all skeptics into believers? No. However, they have worked for me and I will continue to use them as I continue to advocate for online education. And most importantly, I will continue to advocate and work to turn skeptics, like our most recent review team, into believers.
Graetz, R. (2019, March 12). 7 myths about online learning in higher ed. eCampus News. Retrieved from https://www.ecampusnews.com/2019/03/12/7-myths-about-online-learning-higher-ed/
National Center for Education Statistics (2019, January). Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2017; and Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 2017. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019021REV.pdf