Skip to main content

Education Matters

Back to all posts

Charting A Realistic Course for Educational Reform

Photo courtesy Jason Huett.
Photo courtesy Jason Huett.

A few weeks ago, I attended Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education's (GPEE) 20th Anniversary Partnership Forum. The forum's keynote speaker was Dr. Jason B. Huett, and he discussed and explained how education is constantly evolving. Dr. Jason B. Huett is the Associate Dean of Online Development and USG eCore and a tenured Associate Professor of Instructional Technology and Design at the University of West Georgia (UWG). He is also the 2012 President-elect of the Distance Learning Division of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). He speaks and presents internationally on topics concerning online learning, school reform, and the future of education. He has also served as a virtual learning consultant for several schools, universities, and corporations, and he can be reached at Below is a post from Jason on education reform through online learning.

I cannot count the number of times friends or colleagues have sent me a link to Dr. Mark Edmundson’s NY Times OP-ED piece “The Trouble With Online Education” and asked some version of “Well, what do you think of this?” While I find much more to disagree with in Dr. Edmundson’s opinion than to agree with, I won’t take the time to dissect it point by point. That has already been done in numerous places including this
open letter from Inside Higher Ed by Dr. Joshua Kim.

The problem with opinions like Dr. Edmundson’s —and I would add opinions on the opposite end of the spectrum that endorse online learning as the “savior” of education as well– is that they almost always stem from drawing some sort of false comparison e.g., there is amazing face-to-face (F2F) learning, so online learning is inherently inferior. Or, on the opposite end, that online learning allows for such unmatched access, efficiency, and opportunity that F2F instruction is an obsolete delivery medium.

The jury is not out on the efficacy and importance of either medium to the future of educational reform: both can be equally effective; both can be equally dreadful; both will become a part of almost every educational institution’s identity. There is no one ideal way to teach or to learn. There are preferred ways in given situations and with certain subjects catered to particular audiences, but by and large, no one delivery platform can lay claim to the superior approach. The sooner we come to terms with this, the quicker we can get on with charting a path to real, sensible, productive reform.

There are a few things I believe I can say with confidence about the future direction of education. Education will be more technology-enhanced, accessible, flexible, and social – and education will have to be more affordable. We cannot address these changes by retreating into polarized camps in the online vs. F2F debate. Extreme positions invite resistance. Resistance leads to gridlock (US Congress, anyone?). Gridlock is not an option if we are to reform our educational system.

Under the new federally mandated formula for calculating graduation rates, Georgia’s rate was reset to 67.4%. That equates to roughly one third of all Georgia students failing to complete high school within the traditional four-year time span. Combine this with research showing that approximately 58% of all jobs in Georgia will require postsecondary education by 2018, and the severity of the problem becomes more apparent. Addressing this problem requires divergent thinking. Simply continuing with the way we have always done things, because…well, it is the way we have always done things, is not an acceptable approach.

Recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal – along with all the presidents of the University System of Georgia and the presidents of the Technical College System of Georgia – launched Complete College Georgia (CCG), a part of the larger Complete College America Alliance to address the above issues along with several others. The immediate, and I would argue positive, impact of CCG was to force institutions to face the identity crisis that has been bubbling under the surface of each institution for years. Technological advancements, a changing student demographic, decreased funding, increased competition, new student expectations about teaching and learning, a rapidly evolving work place, and other factors are coming together and forcing institutions to ask themselves some very tough questions about who they are and ultimately who they want to be.

It is this identity crisis that is really at the heart of Dr. Edmundson’s criticisms of online learning. It is not about the efficacy of the online medium; rather, it is about the direction of the institution. Do we cling to the ways of the past that we hold sacrosanct, or do we strategically move forward into the world of technology-enhanced education? The answer is, and has to be, both. We can chart a sensible, realistic, middle ground for educational reform, devoid of the hype from either side, where F2F teaching and learning exists in a symbiotic relationship with online teaching and learning. It is time to ditch the partisan rhetoric and get on with reinventing our approach to educating everyone including those who can come to campus, and those who for whatever reason cannot.