Anyone who reads this column on a regular basis probably suspects that I have a side gig promoting "60 Minutes." After all, during the year and a half I've been editor of this magazine, I've mentioned the TV news program several times here. The truth is that I've been a "60 Minutes" junkie since I was about 12 years old, despite the fact that the constant denture cream and laxative commercials during the show remind me that I'm not exactly in the target demographic.
I bring up this show yet again only because the Feb. 18 episode featured Lesley Stahl reporting on, of all topics, online learning. The report was critical but fair, I thought. Stahl focused on the dangers and opportunities online universities have brought to the educational landscape, and interviewed people on both sides of the issue.
What was disappointing is that like most other mainstream press coverage I've seen, the report used only the most basic form of text-based asynchronous e-learning as an example of what's typical in this industry. In this model, learners read an assignment on screen, type in a response, and chat with other learners in text-based discussion rooms.
There's nothing wrong with that model , in fact, it works quite well for many online courses. But to me, the most exciting examples of e-learning are not the ones that put a traditional classroom online; they're the ones that use the Web's unique advantages to do things you couldn't do in a classroom. For instance, there's one economics class that sends learners onto the Web to dig up public companies? profit and loss statements. Working in virtual teams, students solve real business problems using information they find on the Internet.
For the mainstream press, the easy story about e-learning is the one about computers replacing instructors, keyboards making pen and paper obsolete, and real-life communication disappearing in the face of online chat rooms. But as most of us know, the story is much more complex. As our industry begins to get more attention from the mainstream press (and it is!), I hope more reporters will dig past the surface to find examples of high-quality e-learning that does more than just throw a few PowerPoint slides online.
As for me, I'll try my best not to mention "60 Minutes" in any more columns , but I'm not making any promises.
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