Online Education Impacting the World of Learning

The 2012 Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) Higher Education Summit addressed the impact of online courses for the first time in its six years of commencing.

The Summit focused on current issues regarding higher education and includes students, campus leaders, and state legislators. Online learning and funding for institutions were hot topics of this year’s panels, located on the UW Seattle campus.

Online education is an increasingly relevant but controversial method of learning, especially at the University of Washington, which offers several online courses. These include seventeen online masters-degree programs and thirty-eight certificate programs. The UW Tacoma website says of their increasingly available online options: “each quarter, we’re hoping to have more offerings for students who live, work and study on a diverse 24/7 clock.”

Many Summit panelists drew up mixed reactions to the amount of online higher education available to UW students.  Replacing physical instruction and being able to keep students successful are problems that confront e-learning.

Panelist Josh Jarrett, deputy director of Post-Secondary Success, stated that about three of every ten U.S. students are currently taking an online course, and that that number will rise in the near future.

Reluctance to accept the prevalence of technology’s impact in learning will continue to shrink, according to Jarrett. One reason being the money factor: it’s decidedly cheaper to take a class online rather than in person.

“All I know is that it’s cheaper and easier to [access], especially with a child,” says UW Tacoma’s Kate Newman of online classes.

“We aren’t all the way there,” Jarret said, as reported in UW Seattle’s The Daily. “Some aspects of face-to-face experience will not be replicated in an online environment, so it is a question of tradeoffs.”

In addition the online courses already offered for college credit, the University of Washington began offering free online learning this fall quarter. Most of the dozen or so classes will be at graduate level and include math, scientific computing, financial and engineering focuses. This is in sync with several other major universities in the U.S. who’ve partnered with an online start-up company called Coursera. Although open to the public, students must also register with the university and being enrolled in a degree program to earn the appropriate credit.  The free classes give students flexibility to explore different topics without committing to a program or having to spend extra money.

Depending on the success of the free courses, free online learning may become available at the undergraduate level.