In Defense of Online Education

by Rose L. Chou

In online discussions about the current state of LIS education, I’ve seen heavy criticism of online education.  Check out these blog posts, especially the comments, for some context.  I think the general perception of online programs, LIS or not, is that they are easy and students enrolled in them are recluses, hiding away from interacting with other people.  While I can’t speak for all programs and all online students, my experience has been that online programs are challenging — though in a different way than offline programs — and I certainly am no recluse.

My main problem with many comments criticizing online education is that they are entirely disparaging.  To those who are dismissive of online education, stop putting down those of us who choose to be students at an online program.  Your overwhelming negativity is not constructive.  I absolutely believe we should be critical of LIS education — as a whole, online and offline — but discussions shouldn’t just turn into stubborn debates.  If you personally don’t like the idea of taking classes online, it’s just not a fit for you!  But for many others, online education is a fit.  A profession that’s built on the value of access to information should not have a hard time understanding the benefits of online education.  I work full-time, as many people do, and online programs are more flexible and fit better with my lifestyle.

Not everyone needs an in-person classroom, and not everyone excels in that type of learning environment.  LIS programs should absolutely be exploring and implementing alternative teaching methods.  Online programs aren’t necessarily easier or harder than offline programs — they require different skills.  Additionally, in-person classroom discussion doesn’t work for everyone because it has to be facilitated well (and I personally think a well-facilitated classroom discussion is much rarer than generally acknowledged).  Online programs offer an alternative.  Either way, discussions shouldn’t only take place in one environment.  Students should be having these discussions both online and offline.

Thinking that online education is going away is unrealistic.  As it is, I challenge you to find a class that isn’t already a hybrid.  Most offline classes have an online component, whether it’s professors posting articles on Blackboard or students contacting their professors through email.  Since online education is only going to increase, be supportive and encouraging instead of dismissing our choice of program delivery.  If students, online or offline, aren’t taking steps to gain work experience in a library or other information environment, that’s a different issue altogether.  And it has nothing to do with the type of program.

Again, I think we should be critically examining LIS programs, but I’m tired of seeing online programs get targeted more than offline ones.  They all have issues.  Let’s be constructive in figuring out how to solve those problems together.