Is Online Education a Marketing Ploy?

At first, the news seemed great: “85% of High School Students in Online Class Pass.” I was catching up on reading the blog of a former instructor of mine from UT Brownsville. He encouraged us to click on the link to the article and read the comments.

One comment had me rolling on the floor laughing. While it sounded like a hippie anti-establishment rant left over from the 60s, I have to admit that I do hear this kind of reasoning every once and a while: Online Education is just a marketing ploy, with no real value. One part of the quote was just sad and misguided:

“Too bad so many of these poor, misguided students have been duped into thinking they’re actually getting something for their money. But, this is what America is all about now: wanting things to be easy and being given the perception of achievement with diminishing amounts of effort and dedication.”


Online education is easy? Has this guy ignored the last 5 years of educational research? Most students felt that the online classes they took were as hard, or harder, than face-to-face courses.

My online courses were the first time I ever had a real challenge consistently over the course of any entire program. Sure, there were challenging classes in high school and college for me, but my online Masters program was the first time I ever felt like I was actually getting an overall value for my money for the entire program.

But, to be fair, maybe I am biased. Is there any evidence out there that online learning is just a marketing play?

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

3 thoughts on “Is Online Education a Marketing Ploy?

  1. I don’t have any research to suggest that online learning is more difficult, but I do have some anecdotal evidence from students at UTD. I just had a student in my office last week asking about my online class. He took my f2f intro OB class this semester and would like to take my online elective. However, he was very concerned because other students told him it was 3 times the work and much harder. This is not the first time I have heard this concern from students.

    I assured him that in my class the added difficulty of the course was due to the need to be self-motivated rather than more “work” assigned by me. However, it appears that there is at least a perception that online classes are HARDER than f2f classes. It may actually be the case that some online classes are harder since some professors might assign more work to make up for the perceived lack of control they feel. As an instructional designer do you have any evidence that this is happening?

  2. Matt Crosslin

    There does seem to be some of this. I’ve noticed that good face-to-face teachers make good online teachers, but bad face-to-face teachers can go either way. For the most part, online instructors seem to try and convert in-class activities to some type of online equivalent – with varying degrees of success (usually depending on how well they listen to their instructional Designer :)). Actually, the success seems to depend on how willing they are to flex what they think has to be accomplished in a class. If they are dead set on long lectures being converted to text, long multiple choice quizzes, etc – they might end up with a large percentage of upset (and failing) students. Those that embrace active learning and social communities end up being much more satisfied with the results. But those two concepts mean releasing control.

  3. Erin Jennings

    My experience in an online masters program has been that the quality and difficulty of the course depends on the instructor. The ones who respond to discussion posts, comment on your assignments, and encourage additional research create a course that is engaging and requires continuous critical thought about the subject matter. Those who don’t… don’t. I do not feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth on all of the online courses I’ve taken, but so far the proportion of worthwhile classes to not has been higher than that of my face to face education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *