What we once viewed as the underdog of higher education — the second option for educational access — out of sheer necessity has now become the David and Goliath story of the day.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” once described the story of David and Goliath as “a metaphor for improbable victories.” Online education, the underdog, is now shaping the world of education, and not only in post-secondary programs, but even K-12.
Ironically, those who once scoffed at online education are the ones now trying to catch up to those who already have established online platforms, and they are just learning of the many nuances and advantages that go along with it.
At one time, college administrators of online programs had to virtually prove their value and need, many times without the benefit of support from either upper administration or even their faculty cohorts.
Faculty cohorts are the next component of this equation. In my experiences teaching from the associates level to the doctoral, in many instances, the biggest obstacle to implementing online program offerings is getting faculty to buy in to them. In many cases, Faculty were reluctant to participate in these offerings and were most comfortable teaching on campus, even when we offered stipends.
Finally, the learners themselves are the last component of this scenario. Adult learners who take online courses not only have to learn the material in their courses, but they also have to understand how it is being provided to them, learn new technology, and comprehend material that is presented in varying ways that they may be unfamiliar with when compared to being in class on-campus.
That could be a very daunting task, not to mention the fact that numerous times, student advisers and counselors were not advocating for online options. Was it because the participants in the online education process did not see value in this endeavor? Perhaps, more accurately, it was because they feared change, or feared not being able to adapt to the new expectations of the tools of online education and the online learners themselves.
Many battles ahead
All of that is history now, or is it? No one knows what the future will hold, however, it is extremely obvious to summarize that we now fully know the value of online education thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is not inconceivable to think that the days of traditional on-campus learning are in danger. Not of total extinction, mind you, but within the next three to five years, it is projected that a significant portion of traditional colleges will close permanently.
But, just as David was considered an underdog, consider, as Gladwell does, the idea that Goliath was an underdog also, because his experiences in battle as a foot soldier in close combat were no contest for David, who used his slingshot from afar. Had he known about the oncoming threat, would he have been more prepared to handle it?
Now that traditional colleges realize the value of online education because of the current situation, perhaps they can move from a reactive to a proactive stance, and prove everyone can learn.
Only the strong survive
Did this global challenge bring about this revelation, or did it merely accelerate the recognition of the value and need for online education? One component of the debunking process is employers. The value and opportunities of online education opportunities are being realized and capitalized upon.
As challenges arise, only the strong and adaptable will survive. This is true not only now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but history demonstrates how the United States has risen up to face challenges and come out even stronger and better for the experience.
Online education is part of the answer to this challenge; not a Band-Aid or temporary fix. Countless online learners, faculty, and administrators are now prepared to state that the myth of online education not holding the same value of traditional educational offerings is officially debunked.