June 22, 2012
Study Excludes Vital Elements of Online Learning Success
Babson University and Inside Higher Ed published a report, which is available as a free download, reveals an interesting chasm separating Administrators and Faculty when it comes to online education. After reading the announcement blog post on Inside Higer Ed, I felt that the role of technologists and support had simply been excluded from the announcement. However, quickly browsing the report the pattern of acknowledging only two players (faculty and admins) and leaving out designers and technologists is systemic throughout the study design.
This study report is based on two different surveys, supported by commercial partners mentioned in the ackknowledgements. Which would partly explain the obvious exclusion of Instructional Designers and Educational/Academic Technologists from the fundamental design of the study. The question that emerges is - are the commercial players in the online education space interested in maintaining the gaps in achieving quality online education by keeping Instructional Designers out of the picture? If the Utopia of Online Learning has only Administrators and Faculty, and is devoid of Curriculum Designers, Instructional Designers, Instructional Media Specialists and Academic Technologists, that picture is sadly inaccurate.
Other gaping holes pointed out in the comments, thanks to the statistically inclined readers is the response rate to the survey. Paul K, one of the respondents may be speculating correctly, when blaming the less than 10% response rate on the emotional design of survey questions: "Fear or Excitement" is discussed in a lot of detail.
So why really publish a report of this nature? What is the subliminal message being communicated by the sponsors and the study collaborators? Compared to the clinical trials studies and evidence reports backed by Big Pharma, the report will probably fail to help those who truly work in the trenches of online education. Education managers, designers and developers are significant factors in the emotional perception of delivering an online learning experience.
It is not surprising though. The sponsors of the reports sell enterprise solutions to administrators and the administrators need to get buy in from faculty. The operational aspects of making the technology work falls on faculty in understaffed institutions. Even the top campuses in the nation have scarce recognition of the organizational structure behind a successful online learning effort. So, my fellow instructional designers and technologists, I would like to know your response to this study. Was it inclusive of true performance factors for online courses or is it a subliminal sales pitch for more software and hardware?