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Online Education: The New Reality of Education Delivery

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Julie Swafford
September 24, 2018


A simple search on any internet search engine will provide an exhaustive list of colleges and universities offering online degree programs. The term brick-and-mortar used to be primarily associated with retail establishments, but now all things brick-and-mortar, including colleges and universities, find themselves in the wake of a technological wave that has consumed all our lives in one way or another. The handwriting on the wall indicates all organizations, whether a retail store, bank, library or university, must have an online mechanism for delivery of services to remain relevant in the current and future age. In the article “Benefits and Challenges of Online Education for Clinical Social Work: Three Examples” published in the Clinical Social Work Journal in October 2014, Sally Jones asserts that online delivery of social work content is a growing trend in the United States. It is safe to assume this increase is not only occurring in the field of Social Work, but also in most other social science fields as well. What does the increase in online programs signify for the future of colleges and universities? Are online degree programs merely a preference among a variety of options, or is their popularity the beginning of a new reality as a fundamental component of college course curriculum?

Positive and Negative Characteristics of Online Education

According to Jones, access is one of the most alluring qualities of online education. When one thinks of all the barriers when trying to further your education, online access is the most logical solution. Whether your barrier is geographical, logistical, temporal or due to personal responsibilities, online education allows you to plan your life in conjunction with acquiring a degree rather than in spite of it. Jones also notes that online learning enhances the engagement of students for whom online communication is the norm or preference, or whose learning or communication styles are conducive to online learning. This explains the popularity of online learning among the current generation of tech-savvy students. Additionally, Jones states web-based education lends itself to the constructivist-model that shifts more responsibility and power to the student to participate in their own learning.

As Jones discussed, one of the negative characteristics associated with online learning is that it requires an infrastructure investment from the college or university to make the program successful. From the student’s perspective, online learning is geared toward the self-starter who can manage their own deadlines with very little oversight or prompting. Obviously, one must also have reliable internet access before online education is a viable alternative to traditional education. Jones surmises that to be successful, online courses should be rigorously designed, effectively delivered, optimize technology utilization that meets learning objectives and demonstrate desired outcomes.

Coming to Terms with the New Reality

The increase in popularity and availability of online degree programs signifies the beginning of a new reality in education delivery, rather than a trend or fleeting preference. This assertion is supported by the fact that organizations of all modalities are engineering online models for various types of service delivery. One of the clarion calls for all-encompassing paradigm shift toward online service delivery is the fact that the health care industry is investing significant research time, management expertise and strategic funds into developing telemedicine infrastructures. You can now see a health care provider online for primary care, urgent care or therapy visits 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The validity and viability of the care provided is supported by the fact that insurance companies are covering these services-some at a lower copayment than in-person visits. A health care visit is one of the most personal and important face-to-face interactions we have in our lives. If the doctor’s office visit can be transformed into an online experience, then the majority of encounters we have could be redesigned to function in an online setting.

The new reality of online education is supported by the fact that it is gaining wider acceptance among all colleges and universities. As Beth McMurtrie describes in her September 2018 article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Pennsylvania will be offering an online bachelor’s degree beginning next Fall, which will make it the first Ivy League school to offer an online degree. According to McMurtrie, the fact that a school like the University of Pennsylvania is offering an online degree is an illustration of the growing credibility and popularity of online education.


Online degree programs will continue to be a fundamental component of degree options at all colleges and universities as working professionals continue to value the accessibility of online education, and other students become ever more reliant and expectant of technologically accessible education. Schools will need to expand their online degree programs while simultaneously upholding the standards and quality assurances that apply to their on-campus programs. There is no reason to assume that online education can be disregarded, as schools who do not offer online degrees will soon find themselves in the same situation as video rental stores-obsolete and out of business.

Author: Julie Swafford has a BA in Political Science and History from the University of Kentucky and is pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Eastern Kentucky University. Julie has worked in a public healthcare setting for over eleven years and is the founder of the Own Your Own Mind Project. You can reach her at [email protected] or Twitter: @julie0285.

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