There is a worry that online education is not as rigorous as that which happens in the classroom. When we hear people ask wither a particular online course is sufficiently rigorous, we should ask what they mean. Is it a question of hardness? Actually, either kind of course might be more difficult than the other, depending upon the texts, professors, kinds of tests, research, projects, and activities a student has to complete. The real issue is value and hardness isn’t a measure of value.
Rigor is what counts. Rigor is important in the traditional classroom and is equally significant online. Rigor is that which leads a student to the understanding, knowledge, applications, skills, and competencies that are required for academic success, regardless of whether the student is sitting in a classroom or before a computer screen.
There is nothing wrong with online learning when it is done well. And of course, the same can be said about the physical classroom. If professors, students, administrators, or anyone wonder at the rigor of online education, it’s because its advocates have not made the case for how it is useful and successful. They have not elevated well designed and taught courses as models for all to see. Those exemplars should guide our perception of online learning and also how we work to develop and improve it over time. We need to show how computer-based learning can help students learn and demonstrate content-mastery while working with technologies relevant to the future. We must help students show how they can use what they learn in creative and productive ways, proving they truly understand academic material. That, finally, is what rigor really means.
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