President Mendenhall on ‘The State of the Online University’

Online learning hasn't lived up to its promise—yet.

"Just the classroom delivered over a wire," as too many institutions approach online education, is squandered technology, a wasted opportunity, according to WGU President Bob Mendenhall.

Earlier this month, Bob was part of a panel discussion, hosted by The New York Times at its Schools for Tomorrow Conference: Disruptions in the Lecture Hall. The discussion, "The State of the Online University," took a look at what's working—and what isn't—in efforts to leverage the power of the Internet to improve learning.

"Like with traditional institutions, there's good online learning and not-so-good learning, good institutions and poor institutions," Bob said. "In general, most of the online learning in this country is just the classroom delivered over a wire. So we're using the technology for nothing more than distributing what we've always done, and there's no real change in the quality of the learning, the cost of the instruction, or the student experience."


"The same syllabus, the same professor doing the same thing"—the same time-based approach that says every student takes the same amount of time to learn every subject. That, Bob pointed out, is the trap that too many institutions fall into when developing online education.

The discussion, a fascinating 42 minutes moderated by editor of The New York Times' "The Upshot" David Leonhardt and also featuring Paul LeBlanc of Southern New Hampshire University, Rafael Bras of Georgia Institution of Technology, and Scott Kinney of Capella Education, explored the ways technology can change education for the better, the way it has for every other industry.

So far, Bob laments, with notable exceptions like WGU, technology in education has been nothing more but an add-on cost.

The needed changes that will truly revolutionize education aren't simply a matter of moving the classroom to the Web, Bob says. The change will come from innovations like competency-based education and technology-driven curriculum that truly changes the way we learn, not just the way learning is delivered.

Take a look at the full video and let us know your thoughts in the comments. What is the state of the online university in America's higher-education landscape? How has the Internet changed education—and what opportunities are being missed? And when it comes to WGU, what is it that truly makes us flexible, affordable, and unique—the fact that we're online, or something else?

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