New Perspectives on Online Learning

Sep 2, 2011 by Tom Dellner

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lewis Sanborne for a story focusing on keys to online learning success. In addition to being extremely engaging and articulate, Dr. Sanborne—a consultant to the acclaimed Noel-Levitz group—is a leading authority on student success in both the online and traditional environments.

As it turned out, our conversation expanded far beyond tips for excelling in the distance learning environment, eventually covering some of the myths and misconceptions about online learning in general. Dr. Sanborne made a couple of interesting points that I hadn’t considered before.

Dr. Sanborne and many other experts believe that institutions of higher learning in general do a shoddy job of measuring learning outcomes. The primary reason for that, he says, is that we don’t do a good enough job of defining desired learning outcomes before the course even starts. However, there are exceptions to this general rule and, according to Dr. Sanborne, they often occur in the distance learning environment.

“In an online institution, you have to design the entire course before the first day—everything has to be there,” he says. “And if you have a good team of instructional designers, web developers, and faculty who are all contributing to the design of an effective online course, I think you’re much more likely to have clear learning outcomes, as opposed to a traditional face-to-face course that ‘Dr. Jones’ has put together, perhaps on the fly.”

He also believes that higher learning will eventually evolve to the point where the credit is no longer the end-all and be-all, and believes that online institutions again will lead the way.

“We need to start moving away from the credit as the coin of the realm, to a point where we’re not always equating credits with seat time in a class,” he explains. “Again, online is helping to push us in this direction. If we’re able to do a better job of measuring student knowledge and ability at exit versus at entrance, then we can begin to offer credit by examination or for training received outside the classroom environment.”

It was an extremely enjoyable—and very enlightening—conversation. You can check out the full Q&A feature on the CalSouthern website.

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