My Zimbio

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What’s the Problem with Online Education?

Recent studies have demonstrated that online courses, properly handled, can meet and even exceed educational standards established by traditional face-to-face courses. So why aren’t more schools embracing this potentially powerful educational weapon?
Several barriers stand in the way of widespread use of online education. Some barriers relate to enrollment in distance education programs. Rezabek (as cited in Muilenburg & Berge, 2001) grouped these barriers into three broad categories. “Situational barriers result from an individual’s general situation or environment, and include such issues as transportation, age, time constraints, and family responsibilities. Institutional barriers are created by an institution’s programs, policies, and procedures, and include problems with admissions, registration, scheduling of courses, financial aid, and support services. Dispositional barriers result from an individual’ s personal background, attitude, motivation, learning style, and self-confidence.”
Also in the Muilenburg study, Leggett and Persichitte were cited as identifying five basic barrier categories to the implementation of technology in K12 classrooms: time, access, resources, expertise, and support. Muilenburg and Berg’s study, through the study of a myriad of other resources, developed their own list which ultimately identified a total of 64 categories of barriers which the authors used as survey questions for their study.
Berg (1998) identified multiple barriers to online education, including:
· "faceless" teaching
· fear of the imminent replacement of faculty by computers
· diffusion of value traditionally placed on getting a degree
· faculty culture
· lack of an adequate time-frame to implement online courses
· many distance learners who lack independent learning skills and local library resources
· lack of formalized agreements to sustain program commitment though difficulties and problems
· high cost of materials
· taxpayer ignorance of the efficacy of distance education
· lack of a national agenda, funding priority, and policy leadership
· increased time required for both online contacts and preparation of materials/activities
· the more technologically advanced the learning system, the more to go wrong
· non-educational considerations take precedence over educational priorities
· resistance to change
· lack of technological assistance

One definite barrier to online education is the attitude of the instructor toward technology. According to Christiea and Juradob (2009), educators have historically been slow to embrace emergent technology. “Older teachers required time to adapt to the use of overhead transparencies even when they instinctively knew that it was pedagogically smarter to show a picture of complicated equipment during a lecture than to try to describe it in words… It took time and a lot of trial and error before teachers made the next step to PowerPoint….” Christiea and Juradob went on to state that many teachers currently using PowerPoint technology were failing to use it for pedagogical reasons, but rather as speaker notes.  These users had not recognized the potential of the technology for illustration, engagement, or enhancement of their presentation. Similar problems exist with the current use of computer education.
Some might argue that it is fear of technology which impedes its general use more than any other barrier. “…the most critical obstacles reported in this survey appear related to persons' resistance to or fear of the many changes that must occur at the individual and organizational level. Add to these fears the lack of support for the changing roles of students and teachers and you have the ingredients that often lead to significant impediments to success in online education” (Berge, 1998).
Another key problem appears to be related to access. The best online program, if students are unable to access it, get it to work correctly on their home system or mobile device, or figure out how to use it, is worthless. This barrier is so pervasive, Lorenzo and Moore (2002) list access as one of the five pillars of quality online instruction. “One of the most comprehensive and experienced models of access-related issues can be found at the one of the oldest and largest providers of online education, UMUC… Merrily Stover, former Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies at UMUC, outlines the multifaceted structure of an institution focused on providing a full-range of services to make online learning easily accessible to students. For example, UMUC’s Student Success Center offers a full range of online orientations, 24-hour technical support, and easy web-based access to online courses and programs. The school’s Better Opportunities through Online Education Program helps low-income workers gain access to higher education.”
The good news is that educators are beginning to recognize the potential of the technology to provide high quality education to larger numbers of people. Institutes of higher education, public, private, and chartered K12 schools, and even state governments are beginning to offer, promote, and fund online education in vast numbers. Pedagogical changes are improving the quality of these programs, and organizations such as the Sloan Consortium are driving increased access and helping to overcome the digital divide. Unfortunately, it may take a generation for many of these barriers to be overcome. As digital natives graduate and join the ranks of educators and policy makers, I believe we will see a tremendous growth in online education and witness many of these barriers slipping away.


Berge, Z. L. (1998, Summer). Barriers To Online Teaching In Post-Secondary Institutions: Can Policy Changes Fix It? Retrieved May 3, 2012, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration:
Christiea, M., & Juradob, R. G. (2009). Barriers to innovation in online pedagogy. European Journal of Engineering Education, 273–279.
Lorenzo, G., & Moore, J. (2002, November). FIVE PILLARS OF QUALITY ONLINE EDUCATION. Retrieved May 3, 2012, from The Sloan Consortium:
Muilenburg, L., & Berge, Z. (2001). Barriers to Distance Education: A Factor-Analytic Study. The American Journal of Distance Education, 7-22.

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