It’s Necessary, but It’s Not Online Learning

David Harpool, JD, PhD
President, Northcentral University

I applaud the quick actions of higher education in response to the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Recent data from Italy, France, and Vietnam suggest younger, seemingly healthy students can be carriers. The health threat to older adults is clear and maybe understated to traditional college-aged students. During the last few weeks, on-ground higher education institutions have made the correct, although painful, decision to move online. 

It is imperative to differentiate between moving courses online and having the infrastructure to effectively offer distance-based learning. At best, most institutions are offering “technology-assisted courses”. Companies offering services that complement our ability to connect, like Zoom and Go-to-Meeting, are vital in these uncertain times. While these tools have become essential for institutions rapidly moving to technology-assisted learning, these alone are not the same as having the proper infrastructure to effectively offer online learning.

Competent online learning requires a pedagogy to promote engagement between both students and faculty, supported by a robust learning management system (LMS). The LMS should support multiple modalities including video, chat, email, and virtual interaction. Authentic online instruction requires faculty who embrace the teaching mode, are adequately trained, and have experience teaching in the modality. Online learning requires tools for evaluating performance and assessing learning outcomes that are aligned with the modality and supported by the learning management system. Virtual academic and support services must meet student and faculty needs with a sensitivity to diversity, a quest for inclusion, and the harnessing of technologies.

Over the last decade, support and acceptance of online learning has increased in institutional leaders, students, employers, graduates, and albeit at a slower rate, traditional faculty. The recent move to online, technology-assisted courses is necessary. We should not, however, equate what is being done now online, in response to a crisis, as an indicator of the quality or value of genuine online learning.

Northcentral University offers online degrees to over 11,000 students, taught by 100% doctoral faculty, in a 1-1 pedagogy, emphasizing teaching through engagement and a robust learning management system.