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Want to know the future of online courses ? Look to the past

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/28785338@N00/9361694243/: Computer History Museum
Computer History Museum by alc8

When I was honorably discharged from the ARMY in 1992, I entered community college for a year before transferring to a 4-year college. My dad bought me my first laptop, which remained unused upon my desk for nearly a year. Today, like most people, I use my computer everyday as a tool for managing my daily life.

For the past couple of months, some disappointing data has been published by the California State University system who funded an online pilot program, noting only 7 percent of the students completed their online courses. 

The pundits of online learning have pointed to the data as evidence that online courses are ineffective. The loudest voices have come from classroom instructors who argue, "online learning cannot replace classroom teaching" and "students learn best in a classroom setting."

Conversely, proponents of online courses have put a positive spin on the data and have said the technology will get better and systems to make the courses more user friendly will improve. The biggest supporters of online are industries that are connected to the eEconomy and education visionaries that recognize online course's potential to broaden access to instruction, at a cheaper cost.

But for making predictions about the future of online courses, opinions have no place. The best guide we have to predict the future of online courses is in our own history. Let's look at 3 examples: 

In 1901, Wilbur Wright once said famously that, " "Man will not fly for 50 years."

The Wright brothers did not invent the idea of the airplane they refined the technology.  For over 5 years, the Wright brothers built gliders, increasing their wingspans each year then added an engine. They worked largely in secret, to shield their work from the critics.

Some of the biggest critics came from Europe. The Parris Herald publicly critizized the Wright Brother's credibility in a headline Fliers or Liars. It was not until nearly a year later, when the Wright Brothers won credibility throughout the world, recognized as the inventors of the modern Airplane.

Lee De forest was a prolific developer of wireless communication. He developed the vacuum tube as a key component for the radio, television and early computers. Early on he began to sell stock in his company Radio Telephone Company.  The District Attorney stated that "Lee Deforest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company."

In 1977, Ken Olson the founder of Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) was quoted as saying, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in his or her home."  That very year Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented the Apple 1 and later the Apple II. Also, that same year Commodore introduced the PET and Radio Shack begin selling the TSR-80.

So what is the future of Online classes?. it is still unclear, but Campus Technology magazine published that students taking online courses have increased by 96 percent over the last 5 years suggesting that students will continue to take online courses. Also, a Department of Education study in 2009 concluded that students actually learn better with online instruction. 

Let's face it, the completion rates are abysmal, but if History is any guide, online courses are here to stay, will improve overtime and we will adapt our institutions and lives around the new technology that offers the potential to increase access to high quality instruction to all.

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Ali M. Hangan is a Desert Storm Veteran, High School Economics teacher, and writes on trends in Technology and Education.


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Your article actually made me more concerned about... by Rob Kall on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 8:57:03 AM
When Edison was asked about the Lightbulb, he said... by Ali Hangan on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 10:40:11 AM
In fact, he left school after third grade. There i... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 1:51:49 PM
I am a teacher too. There is no conclusive evidenc... by Ali Hangan on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 4:53:03 PM
so much as how to encourage, inspire, and ultimate... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 5:44:01 PM
The new thing about MOOCs is the standardization, ... by Richard Pietrasz on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 2:11:17 PM
I am a teacher too. So, I have concerns about onli... by Ali Hangan on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 4:40:12 PM
I am a teacher too. So, I have concerns about onli... by Ali Hangan on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 4:41:26 PM
People, by nature, are great at starting things to... by Doc McCoy on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 7:22:39 PM
Seems to me the greatest impediment to higher educ... by Peter Duveen on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 9:40:26 PM
Thanks Mr. Duveen,You are on target with the gener... by Ali Hangan on Thursday, Aug 1, 2013 at 12:09:16 AM