the new reality

I read a commentary this morning in The Chronicle of Higher Education that made me literally nod my head, as if I were having a conversation with the author. The column is about the inevitibility of the online course. Love it, hate it, ignore it … it doesn’t matter: it’s here and it’s staying.

The author, Margaret Small, writes: “Within our lifetimes, technology has fundamentally changed the way we get the news, make purchases, and communicate with others. … It’s not just the convenience. It’s the integration of technology within society that’s driving the development of online courses.”

I usually hate to pull out a long quote from someone else’s work, but she put it so well. And it struck a chord with me. I came to the university from the land of media technology and communications – print journalism and educational television (with a stopover as an English and journalism teacher). My roots have always been firmly planted in the written word (that’s why I blog, people) and the newspaper and newsmagazine. That profession is changing daily. My friends still in that profession are learning it every day through changing job descriptions, company makeovers, and, ugh, losing their jobs.

What does this have to do with the online course? I’m glad you asked. It’s a sign of the times. It is what it is. It’s the new reality. [Insert your own cliche here.] Traditional media is struggling with both its delivery and its business model. So is traditional higher education. At the same time both are struggling, two things are happening: 1). they’re being undercut when lower quality offerings take advantage of digital delivery; and 2.) they are being outpaced when high quality offerings come from institutions that have caught on and are off and running in the digital now (it’s not the future anymore).

Instead of complaining about it, we need to assume leadership, develop the tools and set the standards for online learning. If we don’t … well, just look to the newspaper industry to find out what happens next.

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