The Potential for Great Change
Understanding the roots of e-learning, the question of transformation versus evolution that serves to organize this book may not be as binary as it seems. Few should expect (or desire) the face-to-face experience of undergraduate and graduate education to go the way of the 8-track tape player. The question now is not whether virtual universities and other Internet-driven structural changes in higher education will take root and mature. Instead, the question is whether it will happen suddenly through high-profile initiatives that create change all at once, or whether the quiet revolution occurring in more traditional classrooms will, over time, get us to the same point, building on existing conventions.
The Internet offers many obvious and powerful opportunities to reinforce the traditional higher education campus model. As an example, distance learning initiatives have much to learn from the simplicity of peer-to-peer communication among students inside and outside a traditional classroom. Traditional courses can certainly benefit from the rich online collaborative environments that have been well implemented in online distance learning programs. What is transformative is the experience of the courselearning throughout a semester constantly connected to a course community that is one click away. What is evolutionary is the pedagogythe belief that peer-to-peer communication is a core process for effective education.
As is well discussed in the next five chapters of the book, e-learning has risen to the top of the higher education agenda because of its potential to open new revenue sources, improve instructional approaches, expand the support of technology outside of the back office, and serve new markets at a time of great demand. If the potential is turned into reality, e-learning will be transformative. However, the path toward success is one that will likely be made through incremental changes that evolve over time. Although the experience of education will surely be different, the technology inevitably will be driven by pedagogy, ensuring that our core values remain the same.