7 Online Learning Myths that University Administrators Believe

Online learning myths abound among higher education administrators. Yahoo! C.C. 2.0 license.

Online learning has been hailed as a faster, cheaper way to provide education — but it doesn’t do half of what administrators think it will.

With the help of a few experts, we’ve compiled a list of major myths that administrators believe, how they match up against reality and why administrators believe them.

Myth 1: MOOCs are the same as online learning

Reality check
The Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) model is one of a number of online learning models. Three more established models give students credit for course completion, unlike MOOCs: Fully online programs, ad hoc online courses and school-as-a-service models, said Phil Hill, an industry analyst and blogger.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Before MOOCs gained national attention a few years ago, online learning existed in pockets such as continuing education units and masters programs. “It wasn’t strategic, so the top administrators really didn’t have any insight, nor did they care about what’s going on over there,” Hill said.

The popularity of MOOCs showed new presidents and provosts how important online learning was. But they didn’t understand the extent of the online learning programs they already had, what models existed or how to choose one.

Myth 2: Online learning is cheaper than face-to-face learning and an easy money maker

Reality check
Traditional universities spend more time, money and training to prepare faculty for online teaching while continuing to maintain physical campuses. They also have to build a strong support structure to help distance learning students. The only way to make money from online programs is to spend years working on them, scale to tens of thousands of students and actively reduce capital costs, Hill said.

Why university administrators believe this myth
This perception stems from the examples of early for-profit universities, which made significant profits because they don’t have the level of on-campus expenses that traditional universities do, said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield Online.

Myth 3: Faculty members cannot interact as well with students online as they can in person

Reality check
Typical classroom environments only allow faculty members to interact with a handful of students who raise their hand to answer questions. Online environments give the whole class a chance to share their views, which means faculty members get to know more of them better.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Some faculty members who feel threated by online technology tell administrators that they can’t engage students without looking into their eyes. Many of these faculty have never taught online or haven’t had an opportunity to participate in faculty development before they taught online, Schroeder said.

Myth 4: Quality online courses come from individual faculty efforts

Reality check
A team approach is the best way to develop high-quality online courses because faculty need guidance on what works, Hill said. By pulling together a team, universities can build in structures and support that allow them to develop online courses in a systematic way.

Why university administrators believe this myth
A long tradition of faculty working on their own has translated to the online space by default — and that’s not the best approach to begin with, Hill said. Faculty don’t have as many examples to follow because online education has only been around for 15 to 20 years, and the Internet scales both good models and mistakes.

Myth 5: Faculty must be available 24/7 to teach well online

Reality check
While it is important for faculty members to respond promptly online, they can do that without spending all their time online, Schroeder said. Faculty members can set a response time like 24 hours or specify which days they’ll log in so students know what to expect.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Faculty members who are making a case for additional compensation share this myth with administrators because they think they’re expected to be available all the time. But that’s not the case, Schroeder said.

Myth 6: Students don’t need support online because they know more about technology than faculty

Reality check
The average age of online students is in the mid-30s for many programs — not far off from the age of their faculty, Schroeder said. While many of them do know their way around consumer technology, the tools that online learning uses are different, and students do need help understanding how to navigate them.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Administrators hear from faculty that they’re not capable of keeping up with their students because they don’t use the Internet the way other people do. This misconception comes from “faculty members who had trouble setting the clock on their VCRs, and since those days have really not progressed with technology, so they feel insecure,” Schroeder said.

Myth 7: Online learning is infinitely expandable

Reality check
Online learning is not infinitely expandable because it’s not effective to teach large lecture classes of hundreds of students — whether in person or online, Schroeder said. “There’s no effective way to teach a very large section of students without making affordances for interaction and engagement with smaller groups of students or individual students.”

Why university administrators believe this myth
Part of this belief comes out of desperation as administrators are looking for ways to economically meet the needs of more students, Schroeder said. Another part comes from the fact that there are no physical seats in an online program.

Your turn
What other myths do you think administrators believe about online learning?

The article by Tanya Roscorla appears on the Center for Digital Education at

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