The Model Doesn’t Work Without Content

The model doesn’t work without a base of content.

And since quality is subjective (it always has been) and quantity is overwhelming (it has been ever since Google pushed the argument of search to its logical conclusion), the only considerations in online learning that matter are the ones based on the efficacy of the content you’re offering.

But, when building a model for online learning, too many educational institutions are trapped in the Industrial Revolution conception of content, consisting of lectures, tests as performance measurements, grades as a “stick,” accreditation as the “carrot” and conformity as the ultimate goal.

The Industrial Revolution education model works well with accreditation (“Will this get me my degree?”) and supports the creation of graduates with minds that aren’t focused on the skills that matter for the future (“soft” skills) and instead are focused on reinforcing doing things that no longer have much value to organizations:

Like hiding from responsibility and accountability.

Like placing blame when a project or initiative fails.

Like competing in a race to the bottom on price.

Like sacrificing personal ethics for a public paycheck.

Like working for organizations and in industries where professional decline is considered the “norm.”

If the model for your educational organization’s online learning experience doesn’t feature robust, peer-to-peer learning opportunities (projects), “speed to market” dashes (short time frames), high quality student participation (we don’t take everybody because we are neither “massive,” nor all that “open”), and technology as an assistive tool rather than a crutch (email as a messaging service rather than a time waster) then your model of online education and learning will resemble every other model of online learning currently available.

And then you’ll attract exactly the kind of students that you have attending your brick and mortar institution.

But maybe that’s the audience and consumer your educational organization wants to attract, recruit, retain, and ultimately graduate.

But if it is, please be clear on that focus in your organizational head when building the content model for your online learning experience.


  1. Hi, Jesan!

    I totally concur! I just dropped out of a doctoral program offered by NCU because I could see that it was more important to the organization to hand out good grades so that they could continue to get the steady flow of student loan funds than to produce graduates that had real marketable skills. The same is true of the University of Phoenix, at least in the MEd program where I felt my grades were not so much earned as delivered in exchange for money. I haven’t been able to say that the skills learned have benefited anyone, nor that the money was well spent. It appeared that a major requirement of both of these programs was the ability to conform to their standards and not the ability to be innovative or independent in thought.

    I also saw my local state university reject me twice for a doctoral program with the difference being that I was trained online vs one of their brick and mortar grads!

    • Hi Larry-

      This post came out of some observations, thoughts, and conversations that I’ve been having with various folks as I am teaching as an adjunct this semester at a regional brick and mortar institution. I am always concerned when institutions don’t realize that the fundamental circumstances that created their dominance in a particular market space have changed. And then I get doubly concerned when that same lack is then reflected in trying to shoehorn an old market reality into a new market reality. Online education CAN be a boon: to students, to parents, to educators, and to many others, but we have to consider the content in the model first ( and then consider how we’re going to make money. I think reversing that conversational direction pushes us away from the scary question: What is school for? ( and toward the Industrial Revolution model that no longer serves us. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Jesan Sorrells

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