The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Semantics of Online Education

It may all be just semantics, but there are some people in education technology and on campus who think the term “course” should be replaced by “learning experience” as the way to describe online education. They see the traditional 90-minute lecture as an ineffective way to deliver content online and note that instructors are being encouraged to break up content into single-concept modules.

Breaking content into modules makes it easier to share and has little resemblance to what students understand as a “course.” In addition, the term “learning experience” suggests a difference in the way students get the information, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

“The learning experience has to do with things that occur by design and all sorts of other things that aren’t on the syllabus that are spontaneous and student-generated,” said Matthew H. Cooper, CEO of Acatar, a flipped-classroom platform developed by Carnegie-Mellon University.

“We, too, see the boundaries of the traditional course eroding away,” added Ryan Gialames, senior director of product strategy and user experience at Acatar. “We’re speaking with folks at CMU who are interested in building this whole body of knowledge, then figuring individual paths to point students through it. It’s also just as important when you’ve got that body of knowledge that you can build maps and paths.”

Of course, not everyone is sold on the new terminology. For instance, Blackboard has found that more attention is being paid to learning outside traditional courses, but isn’t ready to drop the term.

“There’s, of course, good reason to be skeptical and critical, but this is not a term that is baseless or just cute-sounding,” Robert A. Lue, faculty director at Harvard University, said of the term “learning experience.” “There’s corporate speak, there’s academic speak, there’s all sorts of education speak, and this certainly falls into that. You know what, though? These terms and how they are selected carry meaning.”

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