Online course offerings in the United States have expanded. In both K12 and higher education options for students to take whole courses, blended courses and—in some places—entire degree programs online are more prevalent than ever.
Patrick R. Lowenthal, an associate professor of educational technology at Boise State University, notes that he was one of those professors who began to view online learning more favorably after engaging with the medium back on 2001. Since then he has been teaching courses for graduates online, a medium he admits he was hesitant to engage in before.
Lowenthal has also researched student perceptions of online learning in the past, finding that learners tend to give such courses more negative evaluations than in-person courses. He says that the findings may represent the lack of experience some educators have teaching in online classrooms. He expects that to change over time, noting that good teachers in person will eventually become good teachers online.
“I will be at a dinner party, and someone will ask what I do. Then they will mention taking one online course and hating it. Then they want to talk to me for 45 minutes about how bad online learning is,” says Lowenthal. “The problem with that is we don’t do the same thing with face to face. We have all had some really bad teachers and courses, but we don’t sit there and act like all face to face learning is horrible because of it.”
Lowenthal also notes that these days the term online learning is more ubiquitous than ever. Some even call it “digital learning” because it can mean learning on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. And, thanks to live video, it can also be face-to-face (at least sort-of), giving opportunities for students to connect in ways they couldn’t when he first started teaching.
“Some people say, you’re not actually learning online. Your learning is taking place in your brain,” Lowenthal explains. “So why do we focus so much on the platform?”