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Online Education: Innovative & Personal

Brent Muirhead

Guest Editor, December 2004

Distance education has demonstrated remarkable growth in student enrollment in the for-profit higher education institutions. Currently, the University of Phoenix has grown to become the largest private university in the United States with over 227,000 students who take classes online and at one of their 158 campuses. There has been a steady increase in the number of online degree programs and online classes that are being offered at traditional universities. Technology advances have increased student access to library content through e-journals, e-books and databases. Online education is entering a new phase of development that places a greater emphasis on academic quality in degree programs. Contemporary online schools must continually upgrade their technology and curriculum to effectively prepare students for current and future jobs and educational opportunities. Nichols (2001) highlights six imperatives for educators in the 21st Century:

  • Increased capacity and efficiency - through enabling institutions to cater for the learning of a relatively large number of students at once.

  • Improved effectiveness - by encouraging deep learning approaches and the adaptation of knowledge to the real world.

  • Easy accessibility - by removing distance barriers and catering for a variety of learners' prior educational experience, physical abilities, and time commitments /lifestyles.

  • A competitive mindset - education with the potential to be offered internationally, within industry, and at a distance; providing more choice and convenience for the student.

  • A resource-based emphasis - enabling more student control over what, where, when and how they study and permitting non-linear learning; and

  • The personal touch - with more interaction between students and between individual student and tutor, enabling a degree of customisation and the pursuit of individual students' learning goals in addition to the prescribed course learning outcomes (pp.13-14).

The six imperatives stress a wise and visionary use of technology that will create relevant and accessible student resources. Distance educators and instructional course designers must continue to explore creative ways to personalize and intellectually enrich the cyber environment. Educational leaders must be willing to make financial investments into technology enhancements and teacher training and professional development. The organizations who are hesitant to make prudent long term financial commitments to online education will risk undermining their academic credibility. Poor financial planning and questionable marketing strategies has already produced several major business failures.

The online university known as United Kingdom e-University (UKeU) collaborated with the British government and invested 62 million pounds ($113 million) to develop their commercial venture. The project began in 2000 and collapsed in 2004 (Garett, 2004). Hopefully, educational organizations will be impatient with the status quo and strive to develop vibrant and new educational paradigms that take greater advantage of today’s multimedia resources.


Garrett, R. (2004). The real story behind the failure of U.K. eUniversity. Educause Quarterly, 27(4). Available:

Nichols, M. (2001). Teaching for Learning. New Zealand:

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