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to pitch online courses
to this vast market.
Leading teacher-training
institutions could end up
competing fiercely through
e-learning for enrollments
from across the country.
The best-known
institutions now have the
opportunity to attach their
well-known names, what
the business world calls
“branding,” to courses that
they can offer in all parts of
the United States and even
abroad. Graduate schools
of education at Harvard,
Stanford, Berkeley,
Columbia University’s Teachers College and other prestigious
institutions might eventually associate their names with
widespread online continuing education for teachers.
For-profit providers recognized such possibilities long
before the traditional institutions, and they now compete
with them for the enrollments of such students. A white
paper prepared for the American Association of Colleges
for Teacher Education (AACTE) in 2001 estimated that
more than 650 for-profit degree-granting institutions, and
more than 2,000 virtual companies and universities, offered
education courses.
Mounting interest among teacher educators looking to
assure places for their institutions in the evolving market
for professional development and graduate study prompted
AACTE to hold a special, day-long institute, “Exploring the
Education Industry,” prior to its annual meeting in 2002.
Teacher educators frommore than 70 institutions went to
New York City the day before the annual sessions to attend
this institute. It was a program of the sort that would have
been unthinkable just a few years earlier, when business was
anathema to educators, who still behaved as if they owned
exclusive rights to the future of teacher education. “The old
model may be ending,” said Allen Glenn of the University of
Washington in his opening remarks. “We’re now in a neutral
zone, and we’re not sure where it’s going.”
Online learning very likely could subsist almost entirely
on a diet of occupationally related courses. Accountants,
teachers, health personnel, business and commercial workers,
computer specialists—both in undergraduate and continuing
education—could provide a wealth of ready and willing
cyber learners. Jack M. Wilson, chief executive officer of
UmassOnline, a part of the University of Massachusetts,
went so far in 2002 as to predict in the
Chronicle of
Higher Education
that online programs will displace most
professional graduate programs in business, computer science,
engineering, nursing and education.
Critics of cyber education say it is just as well that the
humanities and the liberal arts have not found succor in
e-learning. They regard the web as a wrong and possibly
perverted place to study Machiavelli’sThe Prince, the
Platonic dialogues, the Federalist Papers or the technique
of Rembrandt. Students can pursue such subjects, in their
opinion, only in person.
Such a perfunctory dismissal of e-learning smacks of
snobbery. Students in classrooms across the country flock
to majors in business, communications, healthcare services
and other applied fields that they think will lead to the
surest employment. Colleges and universities often sustain
enrollments in the liberal arts only by compelling students to
take these courses to satisfy degree requirements.
It remains to be seen just how extensive online learning
will become. In some ways, it amounts to a stripped-down
version of education, devoid of some of the basic amenities
that Americans take for granted as part of colleges and
universities. Moreover, online courses are still regarded
with suspicion, generally lacking the respectability of
classroom-based courses. But the growth spurt of job-related
online learning demonstrates the imperative for traditional
institutions to respond to the demand by working adults for
education more closely tailored to their needs.
Gene I. Maeroff is the author of 14 books and many articles
and reports. This article was adapted from his book, “A
Classroom of One.” His most recent book, “School Boards in
America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy,” was published in
December 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan. He may be reached at
Purveyors of
online learning
see elementary
and secondary
as one of their
biggest potential
markets. The
numbers are huge.