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Teaching Tip: On-Line Courses in Operations–Some Basic Questions

March 20, 2015

online studentThe debate about whether online courses are a good idea continues,” writes Faculty Focus (March 15, 2015). Who’s right or wrong is overshadowed by what the flexibility and convenience of online education has offered institutions and students. Those features opened the door, and online learning has come inside and is making itself at home in most of our colleges. Online learning and face-to-face instruction are routinely compared. Face-to-face instruction has features that online learning can’t have, but then online learning has advantages not possible in face-to-face instruction. Here are 3 basic questions worth considering:

What courses should be offered in the online format? Whatever the students want and will take online has become the default answer. Operations Management does seem to be working well at many large (and small) colleges. MyOMLab is perfectly suited to on-line study as it has numerous self-help ways of tackling homework problems. Videos and readings are built into the software, as well as assessment tools that let students advance when they are prepared.

Who should be teaching online courses? What instructional strengths and weaknesses make a faculty a good choice for online courses? First, faculty who realize the importance of instructional design, or who have access to professionals who do. Online courses need strong coherent structures. They must stand on their own more than face-to-face courses. Course materials matter more in an online environment. Online teachers should have the ability to convey their presence and create a sense of community without being physically present. And good written communication skills are more important than oral ones in online environments.

Who should be taking online courses? The most successful online learners are typically adults who are self-directed learners. That makes online courses a much riskier proposition for beginning students who don’t have clear educational goals and possess marginal abilities as learners. We can’t prevent students from taking online courses, but we need to tell them what skills they need to succeed in those courses.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. terry boardman permalink
    March 20, 2015 11:13 am

    In my mind there is a real question if undergraduates get anything but a piece of paper out of an online course, especially if its in the first two years of college. College is more than learning a course- its the interaction with people , the professor and other students. Afterall in the “outside “world , unless you are a programmer, most of your time is interaction with others- ie supervision.

    • March 20, 2015 3:13 pm

      I totally agree. But the larger schools have built on-line (and massive lecture classes) into their financial models. There is a different skill set for teaching the lecture hall live from totally on-line, though.

  2. March 20, 2015 2:34 pm

    I have taken quite a few online/MOOC courses, one in Supply Chain and several in Data Science, and the opportunity to learn is significant. I’d add to Terry’s comments that even the best programmers can be better if they can engage the business on the business’s terms – that always leads to better results than just sitting in a dark room and writing code to meet the specs/user story/requirements.

    I don’t think you can overemphasize the last paragraph – in order to learn from an online course one must be a self-directed learner. Many are not. And academic dishonesty is much easier and more rampant in a course with many thousands of students so I do agree that there is a question about the validity of the piece of paper. Still, I believe that we are at an inflection point and education (particularly higher education where lots of dollars are at stake) is going to be significantly disrupted over the next several years.

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