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Guest Column: With Online Learning, Classes are Always Open

Excerpt from a guest column by President Johansen in the Business Journal, June 7, 2013.

Avery Cummings of Tualatin earned his bachelor's degree in business management from Marylhurst University in 2012. But he's different than your typical college graduate. He's 36 years old.

He first started college in 1996. And he finished his degree completely online — as did nearly 30 percent of his classmates who earned bachelor's degrees at Marylhurst last year.

Avery's story is not exceptional at Marylhurst, where we've offered online education options for nearly 20 years. Students in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond have voted with their laptops: online learning is here to stay.

Today's universities must offer these choices to attract students of all ages looking for convenience and flexibility.

But just putting course content online isn't the answer.

Much has been made of new massive open online courses that allow anyone, anywhere to access academic content for free. There's great potential to expand no- or low-cost learning opportunities using this model. But we don't yet know whether that model can deliver the quality learning experiences students — and their employers — demand.

At Marylhurst, our online class sizes are only marginally larger than on-campus classes — generally 15 to 25 students. Many online students tell us they think online classes are even more demanding than campus-based classes.

As one of our recent graduates puts it, with online learning, "classes are always open." Online students are reading, discussing, working on team projects with classmates at all hours of the day.

At each year's commencement ceremony, I meet dozens of graduates who are setting foot on our campus — or even in Portland — for the first time. Yet they greet their classmates and instructors as if they were long-lost friends. In their online classes, they have developed a bond shaped by intense and rigorous shared experiences.

Online education is no longer the stepchild of our university system.

Done right, it enriches all of us — especially the students like Avery Cummings we serve.

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