Justifying e-learning to faculty

Numerous articles, studies, and reports point to the remarkable growth of online education and the difficulty of justifying eLearning to faculty members. While the two articles I selected confirm this resistance, a quick Google search illustrates just how pervasive faculty resistance is toward online education. According to the Babson Survey Research Group report (Allen and Seaman, 2017), there were 6.3 million students (1 in 4 students) enrolled in online undergraduate courses in 2016. Given the demand for online classes, it is imperative that higher education leadership and instructional designers employ strategies to justify eLearning and overcome faculty resistance.

According to a 2016 Wiley Education article, 58% of faculty members are skeptical of eLearning based on the belief that online courses produce results that are inferior to traditional face-to-face instruction. Overcoming this fear involves not only presenting the data that shows the effectiveness of online courses but also in providing the faculty members information related to their institution’s online courses. General statistical information is essential but seeing the numbers that represent their school gives the instructors a personal connection to the evidence. The Babson survey confirms this stating that “the academic leaders who had favorable opinions of online learning had some direct exposure to the medium” (Allen and Seaman, 2017). Given the information in this article, the Babson survey, and my own experience with faculty, I agree that showing faculty members that eLearning is effective in meeting learning objectives is crucial to justify online education.

In a 2018 Inside Higher Ed article (Liberman, 2018), several online learning leaders discussed ways to justify eLearning to resistant faculty. Paul Krause, CEO of Cornell University’s online learning department, emphasized a crucial element that is often overlooked in this conversation. It is important to begin with an understanding that many college educators have either limited experience with online learning or only programs that were poorly designed. Faculty perceptions that are shaped by negative information and experiences must be addressed. Exposing the instructor to high-quality courses, institutional standards of excellence in online education, and showing your own commitment to creating significant learning in an eLearning environment are essential to justify online classes for faculty.

Each article shows how crucial it is that we are able to justify eLearning. As I read each article, I noticed one element missing from the conversation: empathy. Taking an empathetic approach produces more significant results than working from your own presuppositions about those who resist eLearning. Recognizing their contributions, expertise, and value show the instructor that you respect them. Faculty are just like everyone else; change is scary. They have strong emotional ties to traditional instruction that may supersede their ability to view change logically. Their technological skills may not be up to par, and they fear failing as an online educator.

As an ID, I think that practicing what we preach is a critical aspect of justifying eLearning to resistant faculty. Course design begins with learner analysis to understand the learner—their prior experience, values, beliefs, and attitudes. It is conducted through an objective lens with the goal of designing learning that meets the learner where they are. Similarly, performing a faculty analysis provides insight into the reasons behind their resistance. It removes the biases we may have and allows us to see the individual in the light of empathy and compassion. Like any change management attempt, building rapport, establishing trust, and listening to the faculty member can bring down the walls preventing communication. Once this occurs, framing the conversation for that individual in a way that validates their experience while appealing to their passion for education has the power to create acceptance for change.

Building Trust: How to Address Faculty Concerns about Online Education. 2016.Wiley Education.

Liberman, Mark. 2018. Overcoming Faculty Resistance – Or Not. Inside HigherEd. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/03/14/experts-offer-advice-convincing-faculty-members-teach-online-or?mc_cid=0675f4d198&mc_eid=5c54a08240

Allen, Elaine and Jeff Seaman. 2017. Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report. Babson Survey Research Group.

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