Over the last two decades, higher education has increased its reliance on online learning as a mechanism for increasing its reach, growing enrollment, and containing costs.

For some students this has been a godsend. It enables many to attend college amid competing pressures from work and family. However, colleges continue to struggle with issues of quality and connecting to isolated learners taking online courses.

Related content: 5 tools to create an engaging online course

Hybrid instruction leverages the strengths of online and in-person instruction, but figuring out the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning remains a thorny challenge.

Online learning does not benefit all students equally. In a study published last year Spiros Protopsaltis and Sandy Baum observed that:

Creating access to programs is a step forward, but only if those programs succeed in providing meaningful educational opportunities to students with minimal levels of academic preparation who need to develop their self-discipline, time management, and learning skills—not just have access to a specific body of information. As we seek to improve the quality of online education and reverse its poor record in an effort to ensure that it not only serves more students, but also serves them well, it is critical to promote regular and substantive student-instructor interaction. (p. 2)

The lack of student-instructor interaction should not surprise us. My colleague, Dr. Bryan Alexander, once observed that technology is adopted by humans in two phases. In the first phase, we view new technology as a more efficient but analogous version of existing technology. Hence the automobile was a “horseless carriage” first. In the second phase, the technology reshapes our fundamental processes.

About the Author:

Tom Haymes is a technologist, photographer, teacher, social scientist, project manager, and educational technology leader. He was design lead for Houston Community College’s West Houston Institute and is author of the forthcoming book Discovering Digital Humanity (ATBOSH Media). His website is ideaspaces.net and he tweets at @ideaspacesnet.