Woman taking online class
A woman taking an online class. Photo via Pixabay

I applaud the quick actions of higher education in response to the threat of the coronavirus. Recent data from Italy, France and Vietnam suggest younger, apparently healthy students can be carriers.

The health threat to older adults is clear and maybe understated as to traditional college-aged students. So in March, higher education institutions made the correct but painful decision to “move online.”

But it is imperative to differentiate between moving courses online and having the infrastructure to effectively offer distance-based learning. At best, most institutions are offering “technology-assisted courses.”

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Companies offering services that complement our ability to connect like Zoom and Go-to-Meeting are vital in these uncertain times. While these tools are now essential for institutions rapidly moving to technology-assisted learning, they alone are not the same as online learning.

Competent online learning requires a pedagogy to promote engagement between students and faculty, supported by a robust-learning management system. The system should support multiple modalities, including video, chat, email, and virtual interaction.

Authentic online instruction requires faculty who embrace the teaching mode, are adequately trained, and have experience teaching in the modality. Online learning requires tools for evaluating performance and assessing learning outcomes that are aligned with the modality and supported by the learning-management system. Virtual academic and support services must meet student and faculty needs with a sensitivity to diversity, a quest for inclusion, and the harnessing of technologies.

Over the last decade, support and acceptance of online learning has increased among institutional leaders, students, employers, graduates, and albeit at a slower rate, traditional faculty. The recent move to online, technology-assisted courses is necessary. We should not, however, equate what is being done now online, in response to a crisis, as an indicator of the quality or value of genuine online learning.

David Harpool is president of Northcentral University, which is part of the San Diego-based National University System. The institution offers online degrees to over 11,000 students, taught by doctoral faculty utilizing a one-on-one approach.