A Talk with Online Professor Leslie Bowman

Author and Online Professor Leslie Bowman is with us today. Leslie has recently written Online Learning: A User-Friendly Approach for High School and College Students, a guide on how to properly approach and learn from online classes. She is with us today to talk about her views on education and technology.

1. What inspired you to write Online Learning?

Success in online learning is directly related to how well students are prepared for the online class environment. Being prepared academically and technologically is only part of the challenge that new online learners face. A far greater challenge is the ability to be self-directed and responsible for learning. Many students seem to have bought into the myth that online classes are easier than traditional classes and are shocked to discover how much time is involved. They don’t realize that reading and writing online take a lot more time than listening and speaking in a traditional class.

Anyone can be successful in the online learning environment if they are willing to follow the strategies outline in the book. I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses online for over ten years and I have seen what happens when students are unprepared for the online learning environment. The strategies in the book were developed from years of experience helping new online learners develop these success skills.

I don’t like to see students who are fully capable academically of passing a course with top grades, drop out or fail the course simply because they don’t know how to work smart in the online learning environment. I wrote this book to provide a strategic plan that all online students, teens, young adults, and older working adults can use in order to succeed in the online class environment. With effective preparation, students have a much better chance of experiencing success, which results in fewer drop outs and fewer students who fail classes. My book teaches students how to do that.

2. What makes the current generation of students different from others in terms of technology?

The current generation grew up with technology and it is standard practice for them to acquire all the newest tech gadgets. These students have the basic technology foundation going into their first online course and, therefore, do not need to spend valuable time becoming accustomed to the underlying technology of online classes.

Older adults going to college for the first time sometimes have a basic technology foundation and sometimes not. Their tech capabilities seem to be related to their work; if they use technology at work, then their first experience in the online classroom is much easier than for students who are not experienced in the use of technology. New online learners who haven’t even used email, much less created, organized, and sent files, have greater difficulty adapting. Many of these students give up on online classes and either do not continue their education or, if they do, return to a traditional classroom. Students must learn some basic technology first, before signing up for online classes, rather than discovering after the fact that they do not have the required technology skills.

Technology is not, however, the driving force in determining success in online learning. Basic technology can be learned. So the younger generation really has no distinct advantage over the older generation in terms of success in online classes. The primary issue becomes that, while the current generation is well-versed in technology, they seem to be less capable in terms of organization, time management, meeting deadlines, and extensive and intensive communication via text (not messaging but “real” writing). Older working adults seem to have had a more extensive academic background in these areas, as well as more experience in a workplace where these skills have been honed and implemented on a daily basis for years.

Perhaps this lack of skills in today’s generation is a result of the lock-step educational process in most traditional educational settings in which everyone does the same things at the same times. This type of instruction does not include learning the foundation required for self-directed learning and so when these students get into the workplace or into college classes, often they have no experience using these skills. In this regard, older students have a distinct advantage over the current younger generation in the online learning environment.

My book focuses on these types of success strategies rather than the technology because that is where I see the most need among new online students. Interestingly, the strategies in the book are also valuable to students in traditional learning environments in high school and college, as well as in the workplace.

3. How can online technology change education?

Fundamental changes will occur simply because students will figure out that they need to be more self-directed in order to succeed not only in online education, but also in traditional education and in the workplace. The only way for students to be successful without these skills is for schools to lower academic standards and we have already seen some evidence of this from elementary through high school and into college. The answer, however, is not found in lowering standards, but rather increasing expectations and preparing students effectively for online learning. Students need to have critical thinking and communication skills that will ensure they are able to fully understand and apply course concepts.

Online learning all too often becomes a “sink or swim” situation because so many students lack the fundamental skills to succeed. Compounding this fact is that they don’t even know what skills are required because no one is teaching them. This does not have to be the case. Students can learn these fundamental skills on their own. In my book, students will learn how to take responsibility for their learning and they will acquire the skills to be self-directed in completing course work and meeting deadlines. This is beneficial not only in the online classroom, but also in traditional classes, as well as at home and in the workplace.

Schools often have online learning checklists for new students, usually along the lines of “Is Online Learning Right for You?” or similar titles. Interestingly, most of the questions are directly related to self-directed learning skills. These are the criteria used to determine whether or not a student can or will be successful in online learning.

This type of learning is not expected of most students in traditional education today and because it is the basis for success in all types of learning, not just online, students who are unprepared fail or drop out as a result of not having been taught these skills. Unfortunately, we see this in traditional education first and then in online learning, as students who are unsuccessful in traditional education take their hopes and dreams to online classes.

My goal with this book is to provide a roadmap for success. At the present time, online learning is different from traditional education in that self-directed learning skills are not optional in online classes; however, students can still get by without these skills in traditional education. Yet when I see students who strongly desire an education and they can’t seem to get it together in the online classroom, it is frustrating not only for the students, but also for me. I know that with the right preparation, anyone can develop and implement the skills necessary for success.

4. Finally, do you think online education is going to replace more traditional means of education or merely augment existing in-person learning?

In some respects, online education has already replaced traditional education. There are many people who have received associates, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees completely online without ever stepping foot in a traditional classroom. The ability for middle and high school students to take online classes is growing phenomenally every year. It is quite possible for a teenager to receive a high school diploma online through a state virtual high school (as well as private virtual high schools) without ever stepping foot in a traditional classroom.

Students in traditional educational programs also take the occasional online class for convenience. Many programs in traditional schools now offer blended learning, which is partially in a traditional classroom and partially online. As students learn skills required for success in online classes, they will, in turn, use these valuable skills in traditional classes and in the workplace. As more students become self-directed learners, traditional education will eventually catch up to online education in terms of standards, expectations, and academic rigor.

It’s wonderful that people have all these choices for learning in today’s world. Where this trend will go in the coming years is anyone’s guess. Certainly the advantages of online learning will continue to draw more and more people to that venue; you can’t beat the convenience and the ability to engage in individualized, personalized learning. In the near future and the long term, online education will continue to enhance, and in some cases, replace traditional education.
Thanks for the interview Leslie! Again, you can find her book Online Education on Amazon here. For more information on democratizing online education, see Udemy’s main website here.