My best friend and his wife visited me last weekend and, while catching up, he told me about how well things were going for him since getting his Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Pittsburgh — online. I met him while we were both at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and he went on to get a Master’s degree from Columbia University — both fully in person, mind you. I was quite impressed with his accomplishment and how the perception of online universities has changed in the last decade. It brought to mind a conversation I once had with an associate that told me that online universities would never be taken seriously by employers — my best friend would beg to differ as he has a job that required the Library Science degree and they took his degree just as seriously as one the University of Pittsburgh would have awarded to a person who had attended all of their classes in person.
If any organization has benefited from the stigma of online learning disappearing, it is Alameda University, which recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. All the way back in 1997, when the idea of an eight year war seemed unfathomable, Almeda University opened its virtual doors to students who graduated and found themselves lying to employers — telling them of a physical location for the University which was a complete fabrication. These lies are no longer necessary.
There are two elements that come to mind that were lacking from online education for a long time but which have slowly come about thanks to improvements in video chat as well as internet connection speeds — always on broadband is the norm in 2012, not the exception. The two elements are face to face conversations with the professor teaching the class as well as getting together with fellow students to collaborate on projects. Many new web sites exist to help people collaborate on group projects, and some of them have even succeeded — they weren’t all like the spectacular failure that was Google Wave. Nevertheless, I would argue that even when you are looking at the face of a person on a video screen and your connection is perfect, there is something missing that you only get from being directly in the physical presence of another person — the mood that shifts the feeling in the air, not to speak of a high five or a handshake that tells you that you did a good job!
It is ultimately a positive thing that, in our ever flattening world, we have online universities that are taken seriously and enable a person in Topeka to get a solid degree from the University of Pittsburgh without having to leave his friends and family behind. The fact that this student can then make new friends online with his classmates who may be states or countries away makes it even better.