As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, the present is the perfect time to share my appreciation toward the entire online learning community, our organization’s online teachers, and our current and past virtual learners.
I am thankful for the pioneers who put us in the position today to afford millions of learners across our country the opportunity to extend their learning in a fully online setting. Starting back in the 1700’s, “correspondence courses” began to surface. Students would receive physical materials in the mail, complete the lesson, mail their answers or questions back to the university, and then wait a few weeks for the next box of materials to arrive. In 1922, Penn State began using the radio to broadcast courses. In the mid-twentieth century, some schools such as Iowa State, began using the TV to deliver educational content. Although the majority of these endeavors had their challenges, simply put, we would not be where we are now without the innovative risks secured by those who came before us.
Fast-forwarding to today, nearly 30% of all higher education students enroll in at least one fully online course annually compared to only 10% in 2002. This growth is significant because the overall enrollment of higher education continues to decrease slightly. Our universities have realized to remain competitive, broaden their national and international presence, and increase access and opportunity for more students, they must intentionally and purposefully build more courses and degrees 100% fully online. I am thankful for the leaders of these organizations and for fighting on your stakeholders behalf to ensure the equitable treatment, resources, and opportunities of your online program similar to the on-campus programs.
I am thankful for all those involved in the instructional design process. Conceptualizing, building, and sustaining a living, breathing, and powerful virtual experience is not easy. You, more than anyone, understand how difficult this can be. To ensure the student perception matches the instructors not to mention a quality, interactive learner experience, every detail, no matter how small, must be intentionally and purposefully planned.
I am thankful for the organizations who help us analyze the past and predict the future to support us in shaping our present. These organizations are invaluable to the success of online learning such as
In my opinion, the greatest driver of the success online learning has and will continue to experience is resistance. Critics of online learning still argue about its quality compared to the on-campus experience. This resistance fuels our industry’s passion and forces its leaders to engage in daily reflection, research, collaboration, and purposeful change. This resistance motivates us to discover new and powerful ways to use technology that makes learning engaging, personal, and relevant for each student.
I am thankful for the commitment and professionalism of our organization’s teachers. Since we began offering online courses four years ago, we have trained over 80 faculty. It is not an easy task to teach online. You need to accomplish the same learning objectives as you would on-campus but have to achieve this while experiencing separation from your student in terms of geography, time, and senses. Their willingness to embrace change while being comfortable with the uncomfortable speaks volumes to their pursuit of personal lifelong learning and a desire to be excellent.
I am thankful for our students. Since inception, we have served over 5,500 enrollments, each and every enrollment unique and special in their own way. Students generally enroll in an online course for a distinct reason which could not have been met otherwise. I am thankful our students have been aware of that reason and have proactively acted on the reason to serve their best interest in that particular moment.
To sum it all up, I am simply thankful. We live in exciting times and our students and teachers today have such diverse options to move from their Point “A” to Point “B.” Every student and teacher's path should appear differently. For some, these may be learning or teaching on-campus, others a mix of the two, and some learning or teaching entirely online. These choices allow more to gain access to the proper path that serves them best.
I am thankful that online learning now has a seat at the table, no longer the “kids” table. Now we may have deeper conversations together about connecting these incredible options to complement one another; not pin one type of learning environment against the other. All serve a purpose. All have shown to produce quality results. Let’s continue to work together cohesively, showing appreciation for all learning modalities! After all, it’s only a matter of time before we have to find yet another chair at the table for a new emerging style of learning not yet discovered.