Online Learning: An Examination of Contexts in Corporate, Higher Education, and K-12 Environments

Online Learning: An Examination of Contexts in Corporate, Higher Education, and K-12 Environments

Chris Thomas (University of Pennsylvania, USA), Wendy Green (University of Pennsylvania, USA), and Doug Lynch (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch017
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The internet and telecommunications technologies have redefined distance learning, while at the same time led to increased access to students and an expanded breadth of subject offerings. For these and other reasons, online learning has been embraced by a large number of corporate, higher education, and K-12 institutions across the nation and globally, reaching billions of students. In order to understand the relationship between technologies, course design and course delivery, we conducted a survey of content designers and facilitators in higher education and corporate sectors. Additionally, we interviewed seven learning leaders who represent organizations involved in online learning in these sectors, as well as in K-12 education contexts. Results indicate that increased access is a primary strategic advantage of online learning. Additionally, corporate and educational sectors tend to approach course design and the choice of technologies in different ways.
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A Distance Learning Revolution

The role of technologies in redefining distance learning has been nothing short of revolutionary. Several technological advances have allowed for the development of highly sophisticated learning environments. Clarke and Hermans (2001) note that the revolution in bandwidth enabled a vast expansion in corporate e-learning that has facilitated strategic alliances among top universities, e-learning and technology companies to create and deliver education and training globally to corporate partners. Additionally, major corporations have invested heavily in e-learning to develop their own global learning networks and corporate universities. While Clarke and Hermans (2001) argue that most corporate universities were simply glorified names for traditional human resource development training programs, some are fully-developed models that include heavy involvement with knowledge management technology, academic partnerships, and research and development. General Motors University was founded in 1999 with 11 functional colleges and a steering committee called a Dean’s Council. In 2001, Motorola U had over 300 faculty and staff, 600 external educators, and 330 classes, with 100 of them offered online (Clarke & Hermans, 2001, p. 7).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cyber Charter School: A growing trend in the United States, a number of charter schools deliver their content mostly or completely online. Not all states allow cyber charters as of yet, but the trend is growing quickly. Washington State boasts 10 such schools.

Virtual High Schools: Similar to Open Universities, Virtual High Schools offer distance learning through the internet to high school students. There are a number of such schools serving different regions of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Synchronous Learning Tools: Synchronous learning tools include any learning technologies that facilitate distance learning that occurs synchronously, or at the same time (e.g., skype, virtual classrooms). Although students are not physically co-present, they are virtually co-present, which allows for interaction that is similar to face-to-face settings.

Blended Learning: As the name implies, it is a blend of styles. Traditionally, blended (or hybrid) learning has described content that is delivered in both online and face-to-face formats. Blended learning can also describe the use of a variety of synchronous and asynchronous learning formats and tools.

Open Universities: The first Open University began as a distance education institution in England in 1969, long before the advent of online learning. Today, there are dozens of Open Universities across the globe, with a combined student population of tens of millions. Open University of China has 2.7 million students.

Corporate University: A corporate university is the strategic tool of a corporation that is designed to accomplish goals through the development and delivery of learning important to the organization. This is accomplished through a variety of means, often including partnerships with institutions of higher education. Corporate universities began to be popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. By the 21st century, over 2,000 corporations had their own universities.

SCORM: Standing for “Sharable Content Object Reference Model,” SCORM is a collection of standards for learning delivered through the internet. SCORM protocols perform functions of a learning management system, such as defining communication in the run-time environment. It also defines how content can be packaged and delivered. Developed in collaboration across public and private sectors, SCORM was created as part of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, which was created by executive order under President Clinton. SCORM-compliant content has been adopted as the de facto standard across education and training contexts around the world.

Dual-Mode Institution: Educational institutions that offer both distance and on-site learning. These institutions specialize in blended learning approaches.

Asynchronous Learning Tools: Asynchronous learning tools include any learning technologies that facilitate learning that does not occur synchronously. Instructors deliver and students access learning at their own pace or at their own conveniences, and they do not directly interact in the learning environment. Most online learning technologies facilitate asynchronous learning—e.g., wikis, threaded discussions, podcasts, and any downloadable materials.

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