Professionals Debate the Quality of Online Education

In recent years, online education has become increasingly popular at colleges and universities across the country. According to the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning, about 5.6 million people took at least one web-based class in the fall 2009 semester. This marked a 21% increase from the year before, compared to a 2% growth in overall higher education during this time frame.

As online education establishes itself as an important part of higher education, many academic professionals have discussed whether or not it can give students the same academic results as campus-based learning. Recently, Robert W. Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University – a nonprofit online school – expressed his opinion in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mendenhall stated that, for the most part, online classes are simply classroom instruction provided over the Internet. Like their campus-based counterparts, online courses are taught by professors and run on a defined schedule using the same curriculum. Therefore, Mendenhall argues that online education offers students the same quality of classes as campus instruction.

Still, some academic professionals doubt the validity of online education. In order to ensure that web-based classes are delivering high-quality education to their students, the U.S. Department of Education recently proposed that accreditation groups keep a closer watch on colleges and universities that offer distance learning options, as Congress says these organizations have been too lax in their accreditation of online programs, the Chronicle reports.

However, accreditors have stated that they currently make online programs prove that students can learn as much in their web-based courses as they could on campus. Many of these individuals feel that the problems people believe plague online education is derived from negative feelings about the way for-profit colleges operate in general. To regulate the business models of these schools, they say, it is not within their jurisdiction.

Guidelines to determine whether or not an institution can properly offer web-based classes were created by six regional accrediting agencies in 2001, the Chronicle reports. One of these standards, for example, was that faculty who teach online classes must be trained and qualified to use the technology, and that students are given access to tech support if they need it. In 2006, as online education grew in popularity, these guidelines were revised.

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