Learning is a continual activity that takes place at multiple locations inside and outside of the enterprise, as well as online and offline. Researchers at Philadelphia’s Drexel University recently completed a comparison study that examined differences between learners who received degrees through traditional on-campus programs and those who received degrees online or through distance learning. The results indicate the main differences between the two degree programs are not in the results they produce for adult learners but in their expectations for the work required to succeed.
The study examined the intellectual rigor needed for both traditional and online learning in order to dispel some of the myths about the two, said Dr. Ken Hartman, director of academic affairs at Drexel University Online. Results indicate beliefs such as “online is easier than on campus learning” are dying a slow death.
“We found that is simply not the case,” Hartman said. “Also, we wanted to see how online versus on-campus impacted the personal and professional lives of students. Myth: Online degree means more time for kids, family, volunteer work, etc. because there’s no commuting. We found that wasn’t true. Pursuing a degree, whether you’re on-campus or online, is time-consuming, which shouldn’t come as any great surprise to most people but again, the idea was that you’d have more flexibility. There is more flexibility but no more free time as a result.”
Online learning flexibility can reduce stress because students who might have had to give up certain personal things in order to pursue traditional degree options now have the option to enjoy that aspect of life and begin their online studies whenever it’s convenient.
“Traditional students were more likely to report that pursuing their degree had a negative impact on their work schedule than our online students,” Hartman said. “There were no statistical differences in their actual experiences and with the level of commitment they felt they would have to put forth in those areas. We asked them initially what were their expectations going into the program, the amount of studying, the amount of writing, reading, the difficulty of the exams. Then we asked them to share their experiences in all those areas. We found that our online students had much higher expectations for the intellectual rigor than our on campus students did.”
Hartman, who recently wrote a white paper titled “Why and How to Create a Successful Virtual Corporate University Leadership Development Program” said study results have implications for CLOs because according to ASTD statistics from 2005, about 30 percent of corporate tuition reimbursements go to online or blended degree programs.
Case in point: Drexel is the sole provider of advanced technology corporation Lockheed Martin’s multistructured leadership development program. For many years the company offered leadership development opportunities by sending employees to seminars and workshops. Now, in an effort to raise accountability, offer job rotations, aid high-potential identification, strengthen the academic side of the leader and realize multiple cost efficiencies, the company has partnered with Drexel for a series of five graduate courses.
“We’re running anywhere from 100 to 150 new Lockheed Martin employees through this leadership development program. Clearly chief learning officers are aware of the fact that the courses that their employees are taking are now available online,” Hartman said. “The interest from a chief learning officer’s perspective is, ‘Is it of equal value to what my colleagues could get at the local college?’ According to Drexel students, it is of equal value. If I were a chief learning officer, I’d want to know the track record at the institution. There’s been this long-held belief that it’s the university’s job to provide the knowledge and skills to enable the entry into a corporation, but it’s the corporation’s job to provide the skills and knowledge necessary for long-term strategic objectives of the organization. That’s beginning to shift.”
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