Ontario universities have a chance to move in-person learning to the internet without a lot of fuss, an expert with Northwestern University’s Annenberg Public Policy Center said during a Friday panel discussion.
The economic and cultural benefits from requiring colleges and universities to offer in-person classes along with online options are not too farfetched, said Matt Stewart, an economist who has studied the cost-benefit equations of different modes of education, said.
“Students are returning to this because the same set of attributes that matter for certain careers are the same factors that matter for schools,” Stewart said.
Ontario high school graduates want to earn more money than their peers in other provinces, according to a 2016 report from the Conference Board of Canada. Online courses offered through universities help close the gap, Stewart said.
“They can still get a solid education, it’s still much cheaper and accessible, they can work, they can get good jobs,” Stewart said.
That’s why many Ontario university graduates are using online education rather than courses taken in person, said Cecilia Imbrie, a professor in the school of social work at the University of Ottawa.
“Most of our students in the social work department are working at least part time, and many of them have reduced hours that they’re working,” Imbrie said. “So one of the last things we hope is that they actually come to the campus to do their course.”
Online courses, which still must be tracked and measured, cost less than in-person instruction, and can bridge any drop-out problems, Stewart said.
“People are willing to pay for that,” he said.
Kent Dodge, a professor at Western University in London, Ontario, said students want to move away from studying things with other people in class. When they do, they’re in trouble.
Dodge worked with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development in Victoria, British Columbia, to encourage universities there to offer online courses.
Despite the cost savings, course-book choices and exam time, students won’t want to study and test online, Dodge said.
“Those who do want to take the course don’t want to study what they’re not going to be able to take,” he said.
Even in a pure competency-based system, universities will make exceptions. They’ll also make exceptions for students who need training in specific fields to land a job, Imbrie said.
“These forms of in-person training will always remain important for the type of skills that are required in these industries,” Imbrie said.