eLearning caucus has ‘long way to go’ in educating Congress

“There’s this thought that most participants are just coming for one or two classes, that online education is just used for shorter-term certificate programs,” she said. “The number of students taking online courses, either completely or as part of a brick-and-mortar program, is not widely-known or discussed.”

More than 3 million American students, or 14 percent of the college population, take courses entirely online, according to according a survey conducted by Learning House Inc. and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

More than 6.7 million students — 30 percent of the student population — took at least one online college course in 2012, according to the Sloan Consortium.

Paul Shiffman, executive director of the Presidents’ Forum, said in 2011 that congress members had trouble understanding online learning as they came from “a place and a time identified primarily with traditional education.”

Now, Shiffman said, an influx of younger congressional staffers is starting to repair that disconnect.

“They’ve been exposed to it,” Shiffman said. “Certainly everybody in congress who is walking around with their iPad and iPhone have a much broader understanding of the technology and its learning opportunities than before.”

Increased focus on online learning from the White House and the U.S. Department of Education has also brought more attention to the issues, he said.

It’s an improvement, he noted, but not one that translates “to statute and structures that are going to enable the federal government to fulfill its role of providing financial aid to predominantly online, non-campus based learners.”

The questions that many in congress ask remain basic, Peller said.

Policy makers get tripped up when discussing simple ways schools prevent cheating in online courses, she said, let alone when discussing advanced adaptive learning or assessments.

“What these very issue-specific caucuses do is bring practitioners to the halls of congress and just highlight the really basic ideas,” she said. “I think that’s helpful, just providing a space to ask questions.”

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