The advent of online learning has transformed dramatically the administration of distance education in higher education. As online learning becomes ubiquitous in both campus-based and distance education—and also becomes a tool to facilitate inter-institutional research collaboration and relations with industry—online distance education has moved closer to the mainstream of the academic community. This raises a variety of challenges for the institutions and for online and distance education administrative leaders.
Transforming The Administration Of Distance Education
Several variables have driven change in the administration of distance education: (1) the increasing number and diversity of institutions that offer online distance education programs, (2) the blurring of distinctions between distance education and campus-based instruction, and (3) the growing importance of inter-institutional collaborations in online distance education. These factors have moved distance education into the mainstream of academic life.
Expansion of Distance Education
With the advent of online learning, the number of institutions engaged in distance education has increased dramatically, especially among public institutions and the largest institutions of all types. Allen and Seaman (2006) report that more than 96 percent of the largest colleges and universities (those with more than 35,000 total enrollments) offered some online courses in 2006; about two-thirds of those institutions had fully online programs. The impact has been greatest on doctoral/research institutions, more than 80 percent of which had some online offerings (courses or programs) in 2006 (p.2). This expansion can be attributed to several factors. First, the ubiquity of the World-Wide Web has greatly lowered the cost of entry for institutions allowing many institutions to enter the field by focusing on smaller, targeted programs and student populations. Second, online learning provides for a level of student-student and student-faculty interaction that makes it attractive as a way to extend the impact of graduate degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates. Third, the adult learner has become a more important constituent for higher education because of changing demographics (smaller numbers in the 18-to-22-year-old cohort). Fourth, globalization has increased pressure to prepare the current workforce to compete in a knowledge-based economy. These factors have made online distance education a strategic tool for large colleges and universities, bringing into the mainstream what once was a peripheral activity.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Blended Programs: Multi-course degree or certificate programs in which some courses are offered online and others are offered in a face-to-face environment
Open Educational Resources: Online materials developed by faculty members and made available to be incorporated into courses and materials by faculty members at other institutions.
Hybrid Courses: Sometimes called “blended courses,” these are courses that use online elements to significantly reduce the need for face-to-face classroom meetings.
Open Courseware Initiative: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm
Access: Online courses expand an institution’s ability to serve students who cannot otherwise attend classes on campus, because of distance or because the individual’s life situation does not allow them to attend campus-based classes on a regular basis.
National Center for Academic Transformation: NCAT is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the effective use of information technology to improve student learning outcomes and reduce the cost of higher education. Programs include State and System Course Redesign, the Redesign Alliance, and Colleagues Committed to Redesign. http://www.thencat.org/