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Mobilizing and Globalizing with Online Education

By Anju Kanwar / February 2010

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Whatever the times, education is an important vehicle to rise above certain of life's inequities. While many countries, including so-called third world nations, have slowly been building their educational systems, America—despite its policies, programs, and good intent—has paid mere lip service to the realization of its educational goals. Consequently, education in many states in America is witnessing a breakdown.

For example, in the state of Georgia, high school graduation rates are low, and college graduation rates even lower. Even within these categories, the figures are divided along race and gender lines, with women (especially African-American women) performing higher than their male counterparts.

What these figures project for our students' futures, in terms of jobs and the attendant quality of life (let alone gender and race relations), is anyone's guess. An increasingly aging America and a competitive world market merely exacerbate the issue.

Like a call from a person on the verge of committing suicide, these figures are a clarion cry for help which must not be ignored.

Brick-and-mortar institutions are increasingly trying to show their understanding and respond by overcoming their prejudices and developing their online arms, as well as by fostering global initiatives. But with Georgia's state of education at high alert, all means should and must be harnessed to bring more education to more students.

Setting aside lofty rhetoric: We must mobilize education!

The Needs of a Changing Population
With e-learning already established as a powerful global communication tool, it is time to re-evaluate distance learning institutions to determine how they can serve as a viable and marketable study option for diverse populations in an ever-changing and globalizing economy.

Brick-and-mortar institutions have historically understood that to enhance understanding and forge constructive communication, it is imperative that we facilitate interaction between different cultures. Academics has traditionally answered this purpose. Study abroad programs, among other measures, have done a significant job. Some of the U.S.'s largest colleges and universities even require some kind of international and cultural-exchange participation for graduation.

Inclusiveness is also evident in new curricula for existing and new courses and programs of study. Under the aegis of the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), many traditional institutions are also forging partnerships, nationally and internationally, to share resources and provide a more rigorous and comprehensive educational experience to students.

Why It Matters
Although most people recognize that to fit into a rapidly globalizing society, to get well-paying jobs at home and abroad, we must move out of our geographically-insular attitudes, many American students are lagging behind.

Georgia's 2008 Report Card, published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, is poor. According to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the graduation rates for Georgia high school students entering college fall well below the national average—which in turn lags behind European averages.

Exacerbating this lack of academic preparation is the increasing cost of higher education in the U.S. Like high-end stores with high overheads, higher education institutions need to reconsider their strategies. And students must reconsider their education options.

It is imperative that we invest in our state and our country's future. Without appropriate qualifications, our citizens will continue to be deprived of jobs and economic security.

Though online colleges and universities have often been stigmatized for their brash newness and failure to maintain standards, these arguments must be reexamined against held stereotypes and prejudices. In line with President Obama's initiative for higher education, and to be competitive in this volatile economy, we must lift the stigma surrounding online education in higher learning and accept it as a viable option for many students.

By educating students from Beijing, to Delhi, to Ibadan, to Seattle—many of whom may not fit in a traditional classroom—online education is already addressing at least five major needs.

1. Cost effectiveness. With smaller campus facilities and reduced faculty and maintenance costs, most distance learning institutions are able to pass on some of their savings to their students. Most of these institutions consequently charge tuition and fees that are significantly lower than those charged by traditional campus-based schools. Further, students also save transportation costs. Boarding and lodging that constitute a considerable portion of expenses for dorm-dwellers may also be reduced or eliminated in many cases, by staying at home or living in a region with a lower cost of living.

2. Overcoming life constraints in a busy lifecycle. Like everyone else, students have multiple commitments, which can crop up at inconvenient times. The option to participate in both real-time and asynchronous coursework at distance learning institutions allow students to fulfill these commitments without interrupting their studies, and potentially lead more complete and less stressful lives.

3. Dynamic, relevant and timely curricula. While the procedures and processes put in place for new curricula and course development serve a valuable purpose in brick-and-mortar institutions, they are also often needlessly time consuming and sometimes misused for personal and political gain. With less red tape required for approval times, online institutions can offer a more versatile and timely course of study that is available when the student needs it.

4. Bridging time, space, and other boundaries via the virtual campus. Human beings have historically defined themselves on the basis of boundaries. Over a period of time, however, these boundaries have become more limiting and counter-productive. Reaching out to other individuals is essential to break barriers of ignorance. Online learning, via chat rooms, discussion boards, email, and multiple social networking tools (in addition to the online lectures and 24/7-available, user-friendly programs and services on the Web sites), allows students to reach out to individuals across regional and national borders, making knowledge more accessible, exchange of ideas more possible, and human understanding more achievable.

5. Multiple teaching and learning styles. Students no longer come in certain race, gender, and age packages. They also do not reflect a single life background or experience. Over time, these categories have become increasingly complex. Education must reflect and respond to this complexity. Online education, with its dynamic and versatile tools at hand (as outlined by the other points given in this article) is successfully able to answer the diverse needs of diverse populations.

Criteria for Online Universities
As in other areas of life, people must behave themselves into learning new education strategies till these become natural and normal for them. Certainly, standards must be maintained. The criteria for online universities must be the same as for traditional ones:

  • academic rigor with a competitive and challenging curricula
  • qualified faculty who are academically and professionally respected
  • academic facility that takes into account student diversity
  • student outreach strong institution-student interaction that begins before admission and continues beyond the degree
  • Department of Education/U.S.-accreditation, which approves and maintains the U.S. government-held standards in education

According to the Georgia Department of Labor (January 7, 2010), Georgia's unemployment rate has risen to 10.2 percent, which is above the national average of 10.0 percent. Together with the need to create new jobs, we need to create individuals with qualifications to work these jobs. With all the criteria listed above being met, at an affordable cost and at the student's convenience, online education can contribute much good, including securing and saving the future of generations to come.


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