Congressional representatives lacked such basic knowledge of online education in 2011 that many thought distance learning was still primarily done through correspondence classes, according to a survey conducted that year.

congress-elearning-educationShortly after that poll’s results were released by a group of online colleges called the Presidents’ Forum, two members of congress formed an eLearning caucus to educate policy makers. Eighteen months since its official launch, the members of the caucus may still have their work cut out for them.

“We’ve come a ways since then,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who created the caucus with Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. “More members have direct experience. Awareness is increasing. But we certainly still have a long way to go.”

Since its creation, the caucus has yet to push for any policy decisions, though members of the group pursue their own policy goals concerning education.

Polis, for example, is exploring how education can move away from the Carnegie Unit, the credit hour system that’s been the controversial backbone of American education for a century and a subject of frequent criticism in online learning circles.

Instead of fighting for certain legislation, the caucus’ goal has continued to be primarily one of education. It has so far played host to four panels for congress members and their staffers, with a fifth, which will focus on open data, planned for February.

Julie Peller, director of federal policy at the Lumina Foundation and a former Capitol Hill staffer, spoke at one of the panels in 2013.

The presentation, a June luncheon briefing called “Innovations in Higher Education,” included speakers from Western Governors University, the New America Foundation, and the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

Peller said even after the caucus’ events, there continues to be a lack of understanding among members of congress as to how sophisticated online learning has become, and who it is meant to serve.


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