Online learning caucus coming to Congress

Chris Fitzgerald, the Polis spokesman, said the caucus’s objectives would “depend on the priorities of the membership,” but could include funding issues, access to online classes, blended learning, and credit recovery for web-based students.

In their invitation for Congressional members to join the eLearning caucus, Polis and Noem cite a series of statistics that could offer a preview of what the lawmakers will focus on in the coming year.

More than 5.6 million college students–or 30 percent of all U.S. college students–took at  least one online course in 2009. Four million K-12 students took some form of online course in 2009, up from 45,000 during the 2000 school year. Women, according to the “dear colleague” letter, “disproportionately take postsecondary eLearning courses.”

The eLearning caucus, for example, could examine efficient online teaching strategies that prove successful at a few colleges and universities, and scale those approaches to a national level, said Shiffman, who also serves as vice president for government relations at Excelsior College, an online school based in New York.

“It would benefit institutions, as well as the country, if policy makers had a resource where they could learn more about technology-based learning,” he said. “Right now, policy makers don’t have a full view of what the technology has enabled for learning purposes.”

Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin communications professor who tracks public opinion and emerging technologies, said Congressional groups like the eLearning caucus are where policy issues are tackled before monied interests and “hyper partisanship” play a major role.

“They help form a comprehensive picture before the whole lobbying machine starts ramping up, and [lawmakers] can have a good understanding and can decipher good information from bad information,” Scheufele said. “A lot of these caucuses are trying to pick up these issues early in the cycle. … Caucuses have traditionally provided a way of providing detailed discussion instead of just opening this up to a lobbying battle in D.C.”