As a web-based entrepreneur who focuses on high-skill trades such as accounting and law, I have become very familiar with the modern educational landscape. The advent of online education has been significant for these industries and many others, as it has opened up new possibilities for students and teachers alike.
However, not everything in the world of online classes and web-based lectures is positive. There have been some growing pains in the process of developing this learning framework for the 21st century that have led to unforeseen consequences. Here are three of these issues, as well as some potential ways to approach or resolve them as an entrepreneur.
Part of the reason why there has been such a push to revitalize our educational landscape is the realization that different people learn best in different ways. This is best explained by Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which suggests that, in addition to other cognitive differences, some students learn better through self-study while others learn better in groups. Hence, in relation to online education, students who learn best through independent study fare better than those who prefer interpersonal education.
In a survey of ten community colleges across the United States, students mentioned online classes as one of the top five challenges to their academic success. The two most common reasons this was an issue had to do with a lack of interaction with their instructors and difficulty completing the assigned material on their own. Teachers have also expressed similar concerns, as a survey conducted by the EDUCASE Learning Initiative showed that teachers found online “blended learning” to be the second most pertinent issue facing modern teaching and learning.
So, how do we overcome this challenge? What many online prep courses, like the ones I write about, have begun doing to address this issue is to offer an experience that combines traditional and online learning into a livestreamed “virtual classroom” environment. Consequently, anyone interested in online education-based business should consider adding online message boards and “office hours” where instructors can be reached through email in order to remedy this issue without incurring significant extra costs.
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Another form of blended classroom that has gained popularity in the past decade is the MOOC (massive open online course). These are online college-level academic courses that are free and provide open enrollment to anyone. While MOOCs like the ones offered by edX allow students all over the world, and at virtually any income level, to receive an education from some of academia’s top institutions, this new take on education in the internet age has seen pushback from educators who fear for their job security.
In 2013, San Jose State University’s Philosophy department published an open letter explaining why they decided to pass on participating in edX, with one of their points being that administrators who push these programs “are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.” And while this could be considered overblown doomsaying at the time it was published, it appears that their predictions came true; according to the most recent economic report from the American Association of University Professors, “States are dismantling higher education through severe budget cuts, by eliminating the protections of tenure, and by shutting down institutions without consultation.”
Although online education can be considered one significant cause of this phenomenon, it also presents itself as a viable solution. Any professors who feel disenfranchised by the change in education as an industry can apply the “gig economy” model in conjunction with online education providers like edX. Furthermore, this is the best time for educators to pursue their own entrepreneurial path through an independent platform; for a good example of this in action, take a look at history professor Thaddeus Russell’s Renegade University.
Before the invention of the printing press and the ubiquity of the written word, literacy wasn’t a significant issue. However, as civilization progressed and methods of disseminating written information became easier and more common, knowing how to read became one of the most significant means of attaining a rewarding life in modern society. And with the rise of personal computers, smartphones and the internet in the 21st century, computer literacy is quickly becoming the next step in this process.
As Reference.com puts it, “Almost all workplaces and businesses have embraced the use of computers in one way or another meaning it is almost impossible not to encounter a computer in everyday life.” This also includes the classroom; according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “The Internet has taken on an increasingly prominent role in school curricula.” Sadly, this same article also mentions that roughly seven million children in the United States live in a household without internet access, severely inhibiting their computer literacy.
The good news is that there are classes offered all over the United States, and the rest of the world, that can train people to use computers and resolve this challenge. However, this is still an issue for online education businesses that wish to improve computer literacy. After all, how is someone supposed to learn about proper computer use if they can only take these classes on a computer? Furthermore, how do these students expect to use computers if they don’t have online access in the first place? Ultimately, these challenges facing online education will likely need to be addressed at a government level through stronger infrastructure before being handled at the business level.
Although many of these challenges facing the future of online education may seem daunting, they are by no means insurmountable. Extremely qualified and intelligent people are working diligently every day to solve these problems. For this reason, the market is ripe for an innovative method of solving these issues. So, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and believe that you can offer a solution, I believe there is no better time than now to start an online education business.