David Levine

Research Scientist, University of Tennessee


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Online Education versus Traditional Education for College/University.

With the proliferation of on-line Colleges and Universities, I wonder if the long-term outcomes will be different; by different I mean worse. I would argue that the social experience of going to a traditional College is better for most individuals. The direct face-to-face interactions with professors and peers, the ability to join clubs, play sports, join Fraternities and Sororities, etc. all are learning experiences. Learning to interact with others, work as a team, take instruction, etc., are all part of the learning experience.

I am completely for hybrid courses and even taking a few courses on-line. What I would argue against is the 4 year degree that can be obtained in your kitchen. There are lots of statistics on each side (you can always find the news you want). But for the typical post-HS student (not adults wanting to gain a degree) I would argue that traditional education is better from a standpoint of helping one develop as a mature individual who can contribute to society.

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    Jan 9 2014: Re: "...by different I mean worse."
    How much "worse" is not ending up with a boat load of financial debit?

    "The rising cost of college looms like an insurmountable obstacle for many low-income Americans hoping to get a higher education. The notion of a college education becoming a financial albatross around the neck of the nation’s youth is a growing meme across the culture. Some education experts now advise high school graduates that a college education may not be such a good investment after all. “Sticker price matters a lot,” said Lawrence Katz, a professor of Harvard University. “It is a deterrent.”

    But there is also another matter to consider in this question: More than 70 percent of Americans matriculate at a four-year college, but less than two-thirds end up graduating.

  • Jan 14 2014: David,

    1. I feel you can go to any reasonable College/University and get a great education if you apply yourself
    2. Maturity is dependent upon the individual, environment and to a degree number of years - I have known 18 year old freshmen that were far more mature than 50 year old profs.
    3. If one uses the online experience like a correspondence course, then there will be a lack
    4. I agree the peer to peer discussions are the key to learning in College/Universities and that is beyond the subject.
    5. Why go to a "named" school? It is because it is a stimulating idea rich environment where you are talking to people as smart or smarter than you are. In many of the other schools, you need to find these individuals.
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    Jan 10 2014: Doc, I spend a lot of time discussing education and actively seek better ways and means ... I do not feel the on-line education system is the answer.

    About a week ago I saw Former Secretary of Education William Bennett state that approximately 4% or 150 colleges in the USA are worth the investment. I can assure you that not a single on-line school was on the list. Sad the top dog would say this.

    150 of 3500 U.S. Colleges Are Worth the Investment ... finance.yahoo.com/...150-3500-u-colleges-worth...former-132020890.html

    The means to evaluate this would be the Return On Investment (ROI). I am no expert but the ROI from a on-line school is not a favorable ratio. Student debt is second largest source of U.S. household debt, after only mortgages. Knowing this it is worth the parents and students to evaluate the ROI for the school and for the major being taken.

    I am 70, a retired engineer, and enjoy the Khan academy and some on line offerings. But as a hiring agent I would be suspect of some of the degrees by the "fly-by-night schools". It took me two years to make a Masters Degree holder a viable employee in the aircraft industry and about five for a BA.

    I would recommend that students go to a Community College near home that has transferable credits to the University you wish to attend. Communicate with both counselors often. This saves money, allows for a easier transition, and what I consider most valuable allows you to mature. If subjects like maths, sciences and English are transferable credits take them locally.

    The last I read one year is approximately $4,000 at the big Univ. At the local you can take a course for about $200 and any size load you want and no food or maintenance costs. So we are looking at one forth the cost. For certain areas of endeavor there are trade schools which also should be considered. A degree is not always the answer.

    Thanks for giving the old guy a minute of your time.
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    Jan 8 2014: I would agree with both points. The level of rigor in on-line courses seems to be less as well as the individual attention students receive. More of a mass-market course than the small courses we have experienced in the past.
    • Jan 9 2014: Pretty much anyone being able to get in is also a factor.
      Granted, university admission standards and means to filter ill fitting accepted students out often have little to do with actual student quality, but the fact that you were able to get passed some admission bar is still some (limited) assurance.

      Reputations can also become self fulfilling prophecies. Once an institute has a reputation as the best, deserved or otherwise, admission standards are raised, and the best seek to learn there, because their degree will later count for more in the job market. Actual quality of education is irrelevant in that regard.
      It also works in reverse, and online courses currently have a pretty bad reputation.
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        Jan 9 2014: I agree - I also see people wanting the easiest possible degree and some of the on-line schools are happy to provide that for a cost!
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    Jan 14 2014: I agree with all of this. Do you think number 4 can happen with on-line education?
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      Jan 15 2014: I think you can do some of this with distance learning programs using well run discussion forums for small enough groups that students come to know each other well, but I don't think the giant MOOCs work out that way. I doubt, though, that one can reproduce online the rich immersive context of the college in which students live on or near campus and live, eat, sleep, and study in the close vicinity of classmates.
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    Jan 10 2014: Hi Robert,

    I would respectfully disagree with William Bennett as any school can be a great investment or a poor investment based on the student and their individual goals and drive. Here in the South, Georgia, Tennessee, and other states have almost free College education through the HOPE scholarship. Students do need to keep their grades up and yes 50% plus lose this free ride.

    People will get out of education what they put into it. Unfortunately I think a lot of people go to college with no real plan and just choose an easy degree path. I can’t blame their advisors for this, maybe their parents a little, but until you know what you want out of college why go and rack up debt? You mention the major taken – that is an important issue. Students in Geology for example will have a tough time finding a job. Engineering (although a harder degree) will pay the dividends.

    Personally I did start at a community college, as it was free through a NY State scholarship. Then UG, then I performed well enough in the work force to earn free rides through 2 of my next 3 degrees. I worked full time through 2 of the 3 as well. I never considered loans; if I couldn't pay for it I worked until I could.
    • Jan 12 2014: In addition to people getting out what they put in, the fundamental research rule is to have identical inputs on both sides of the analysis. If we are talking about the success rate for a group of students that qualified for admission to a top teir 4 year undergraduate University, the comparison to an ON-LINE or alternative system needs to have the same quality of student in both committment and starting skills.
      Yes, that does vary significantly by Department, even within higher teir Universities.
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    Jan 9 2014: I agree with everything you said. But are on-line programs the answer? The graduation rate of the Phoenix type institutions is less than 10%. I'm not bashing Phoenix and Walden, etc.. just stating their graduation rate is lower then traditional colleges.

    State Universities are now tying funding to graduation rates. Is this a good thing? Debatable. I would guess some institutions will try to graduate people just for the funding.

    Tuition and fees at Phoenix - I ran their tuition calculator - 53,000 for a BS in Education at my local campus. My State University - 30,215 tuition and fees for the same degree.

    A lot less debt than on-line
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    Jan 9 2014: Well said - and great job raising your kids as well.
  • Jan 8 2014: Part of the problem with defining a new education system is the standards are defined by OLD people with OLD tools. To make any real progress we need NEW people with NEW tools.
    “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”- Socrates
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      Jan 9 2014: I've heard this argument a lot lately. The thought that OLD people with OLD tools run Universities is really not accurate. Most Universities are extremely progressive and offer a lot of options for traditional courses, hybrid courses, and on-line courses. Some of the on-line Universities are just money making machines with graduation rates that are pitifully low. A lot of these companies just see on-line education as a way to make money, the student success is not paramount. If you think of how quickly the on-line craze has happened, have we really had time to evaluate the outcomes?
      • Jan 9 2014: I agree Doc that some are changing but only because they are being forced to change or go broke just like silicon valley went through the evolution and then the dot com companies evolved and right now the majority of our computer-clueless labor force is feeling the pressure to learn or be left out in the cold. How can a University compete when one online professor can teach hundreds of thousands of students and when real-time streaming students can observe experiments all over the world with the click of the mouse. Even here at TED where some of the finest speakers in the world can communicate with millions of people around the world simultaneously, and then hundreds of thousands of people can discuss what they heard or bring up their own topic for discussion over a period of months. The Universities are not doing this to be progressive, they are doing it to survive and they are very close to being obsolete already. Do you know of even one board of director under the age of sixty in any traditional college?
        A lot of these on-line Universities you are talking about are amateur rip-off's and they will not succeed in the long run. The model that is working and has been for years is the Google model, offer everything for free until you get your crowd and then slowly make your fortune on advertising. Facebook did it and so have hundreds of social companies. Smart Universities will follow the same model, they already have the text, pictures and video so the next step is offer it for free to millions and make your money on advertising! Think of the headline:
        "Professor David Levine University of Tennessee teaches 100 million students this semester and only charges $1 per student" or free for students and make $100 million on advertising.
        I get my education for $1, you get $100 million... we are both very happy right?
        Did I mention the advertising goes 24/7 so you just made $50 million while you were sleeping.
        Now you owe me $1, I am not free you know :)
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          Jan 9 2014: An example? Christina Paxson, the new president of Brown, is 53.
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          Jan 9 2014: I have to agree that the administration in higher education tends to be older. But having worked as faculty, department head, Dean, etc. allows you to know how things work. Most companies don't start you off in high positions either. MOOC's are struggling somewhat, VERY low completion rate of courses, no personal attention is possible, etc.

          I do use Khan Academy, Google in Education, TED (of course), and many others for my personal development. These are also free and open to anyone - their mission seems genuine and is not just about making money.

          Higher ed does need reform - but Phoenix/Walden/etc. is not the reform we need.
      • Jan 9 2014: OK Fritzie, now name one under 20 where they should be.
        How about Alia Sabur a professor at 19, she would make a great director!
        Or Jacob Barnett on TED started college at 8.
      • Jan 9 2014: Yes David the Khan Academy and others you mentioned are free and excellent sources. Whenever I represented myself in a courtroom I found the online law library at Cornell very useful. I have needed an attorney eight times in my life and six of them I fired and then represented myself, won every case so far. I also know Harvard and Stanford went online very early as did others who could see the light. It is coming and those who delayed will be left in the dark. People simply refuse to pay for information now but they will tolerate a few ads on the side to get the information "free" and they do click on the ads, like robots building cars in the dark, ads work for you 24/7.
        I have worked in the government and sat on the boards before so I am painfully aware of how things work. Words like: red tape, slow, stubborn, inefficient, repetitive, insane, historical, lawyer jargon all come to mind when I think of my experience with boards, were yours different?
        I have company meetings in an empty room, no chairs, tables, coffee... everyone stands and you would be amazed at how much can be accomplished in such a short time.
        Data bases are the future of education and those that are the easiest to get at will be the most successful. Don't blow all your money on peripherals as they are in constant revision. Concentrate on making your data accessible to all devices and let users blow their money on the devices.
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          Jan 9 2014: I agree with your post but I also think most people are too lazy to do the research themselves as you did in your legal cases. We could make everything accessible and only a minority will use it.

          BTW - I love the idea meetings idea, I might try this for short meetings!
      • Jan 9 2014: That's what I thought about Wikipedia and look at it now. You are probably right about the lazy thing, I am a long ways away from normal, some people just call me Abby.... AbbyNormal.
        At first no one wanted to use even word processors or PC's for that matter, do you remember when they only understood basic. People don't want to program computers, they are lazy, they just want to use them but if they are easy to use, they will use them as we see with Apple products. Even I don't want to program anymore and I have been doing it since 1967. I have a cell phone and I don't even know how to retrieve voice mail nor do I care.
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          Jan 9 2014: Wikipedia is a very superficial resource most of the time. Taking 5 minutes to look at a topic there is very different then gathering the original information and formulating your own opinions. Too much information handed to us can make people dependent on someone just using information given to them. I just looked at stem-cell therapy for cancer on wikipedia - two short paragraphs. Just the sources of and the characteristics of stem cells that might be utilized is a topic that can be discussed for years. Someone looking up stem cells because they heard it may help (fill in the blank her - deafness, baldness, multiple sclerosis, etc.), makes people susceptible to quackery and the constant stream of ads for non-approved medical products.

          Sorry for the soap box - back to my point. The vast majority of people might scan a TED talk, a lecture on Khan, etc., but the number of people that are willing to work hard for an on-line education I fear is low.
      • Jan 9 2014: I don't watch any ads, that is why I threw my TV in the trash way back in the 70's. My children where raised without TV if you can imagine that and without violence, none have ever had a spanking. To my amazement one became a TV anchor in Hawaii here:
        And another one who is thirty is following in her fathers footsteps, getting straight A's at the same college where I was on the same Dean's list. She has traveled the world, speaks several languages and owns her own business.
        Personally I love Wikipedia but as you pointed out it is not always accurate which is also the case of college research, books, theories or even talks given by professors or any other people. All information has to be interpreted and scrutinized, that's why we have brains. Hopefully with more and more information available faster, before the government and corporations can get there filthy hands on it, we will become smarter.
        There is no shortage of ducks anywhere I find quacking going on around every corner.
  • Jan 8 2014: From what I've heard, an online education is considered very much second rate in the job market, so we have a definitive answer at least in that regard.

    As for the more social aspects of higher education, learning to live with and work with others is always beneficial, though you hardly need higher education to learn how to cope with those.