Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Online Degrees

This is part of a series of reprints from my classes. Once the class is over, I will lose these if I don't save them elsewhere. I've decided to post them here as they may be of some interest. This is from my Introduction to Information Systems class, which I was too lazy to test out of.

I think there are two primary questions that a hiring manager would consider when reviewing a prospective employee’s education: What is the reputation of the institution? And, does this education significantly qualify the application?

As for the reputation of the institution, it serves to note that most online-only schools are not well established institutions. Further, the initial wave of these schools served to sully their own name while they experimented with teaching and business models. As another student said, some of these institutions are known as “diploma mills.”

One particular such institution is also known for aggressive recruiting practices, so much so that they are the subject of a lawsuit that will go forth next year. That same institution has a reputation for extremely low standards for its professors, and not much better standards for the education of its students. While I’ll avoid naming the institution in question, I think that most who read this will immediately know the one which I allude to. If you can guess, then you can be sure that those who would hire you can as well.

However, this is not a phenomenon that is specific to online universities. Trade schools generally share this fate, making them all but worthless for most professions. Traditional universities have been known to fail as well, though they have far more invested and as such far more to lose by such actions.

That is why I believe that online curriculums offered by traditional universities offer the best of both worlds. Such an institution has the necessary legitimacy to function without online education, yet it is extended – and by proxy its legitimacy – to the online arena. I don’t believe that the absence of this precludes online-only institutions from legitimacy, but it helps to explain the prejudice that some may hold against them.

The other side is the student. It is important to remember that a poor student can be offered the best education and learn nothing while an excellent student can attend a terrible university and still achieve their goals. This makes an evaluation difficult, but if you are hiring you do not want to allow prejudice against an institution exclude a great candidate.

As someone in the class mentioned, the motivation of a student is important for online learning. If a student is not self-motivated and self-sufficient they will likely fail. However, I would add that they may not fail their class by this, but merely fail to learn what they should. This ties into the institution, because if an institution has a reputation for allowing students to easily pass then the student without motivation may be able to cruise through. This person is likely not a great asset to your organization.

Studies show that it is easier to cheat with an online-only class. This is a fault with the system, not necessarily the institution or the teachers. Students attending such classes should have the maturity to know that they only cheat themselves and waste their money by doing this.

Beyond that I would mention that it takes the right personality and curriculum to succeed at an online-only program. Some people will learn better through the immersion and focus provided by a classroom. These people may shortchange themselves by attending online classes. That would be difficult to detect when hiring such a person.

Lastly, I think online-only schools lack much of the socialization that is a part of the college experience. Dormitories, classrooms, and other in-person interactions not only build bonds but teach important lessons. Were I to interview a candidate who attended an online-only institution immediately after high school I would be weary of their social skills. They may communicate view email exquisitely, but how will they act during a meeting? After skipping the dorm life, how will they react to the cubicle farm?

I think that online curriculums are gaining much legitimacy. They deserve different questions, but it is my hope that fewer people see them as inferior. Still, there will always exist prejudice about certain institutions, whether they be online or not.

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