Online education’s growing up

Online education has come a long way. Recent years have seen it rise from having a bad rap to having a place atop the academia’s ivory tower and, as of last week, in every Idaho high school curriculum.

It was just last Thursday when Idaho took a leap of faith with online courses, requiring at least two of them for every high school student. The state said this requirement is one piece of an education overhaul that will save money and better prepare students for college.

For better or worse, the move shows the growth of online education across the country, a trend that reached one in four college students in 2008-09 and touched down in Chapel Hill in 2010.

It was around this time last year when the Kenan-Flagler Business School announced that it would be offering an online MBA to be called “MBA@UNC.”

Without the laptop in front of you, it would be hard to tell this online program from the one on-campus: they have similar course loads and some of the same professors. They even have comparable price tags, with the two-year MBA@UNC program’s $89,000 cost to out-of-state students falling just about $10,000 short of what non-residents usually have to pay for the traditional program.

But one has to wonder what we’re losing by going to school from our living room couch.

I’ve taken two online courses. Both times I had an uneasy feeling, one that made me wish for a brick-and-mortar classroom in which I could just turn to my neighbor to ask, “When is our midterm again?”

Few high-ranking schools have taken the risk UNC has, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Online classes have been cheap because the for-profit “universities” offering them have nothing close to UNC’s reputation or its top-20 ranking among business schools.

This course appeals to working professionals, many of whom pay with their employer’s assistance. For them, the MBA degree might not mean a job, but a raise.

But in a field where networking is pivotal, one wonders if some of that gets lost — even with web-cams and virtual coffee breaks.

Discussing ideas or asking a question off the top of your head are things that we take for granted, and while they’re certainly attainable in an online classroom, they will not likely come as easily.

Thanks for reading.

Read more in EditorialsKenan-Flagler Business SchoolOpinion

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