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Online Learning Brings New Challenges, Expands Access

January 16, 2013 - 6:00pm

Options for both initial and continuing education have expanded rapidly in the 21st century.

Students have new options not dreamed of a decade ago, especially with the rapid growth and expansion of online degree programs, online classes and e-teaching tools. The 31 members of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida have nearly 300 full-time online degree programs. Floridas students are able to instantly connect with other students across the globe in virtual classrooms by conveniently completing coursework online.

It is important to note that online learning is far more than full degree programs. It can be a useful tool for Florida in many ways, including adding value to secondary student education, enhancing options for teacher education, and adding e-library options as learning tools in Florida schools. Online education is also being used in postsecondary and postgraduate talent development, professional development, specific industry certification, and coursework to help students complete degrees on time. It should be viewed as a multifaceted tool to help make Florida a brighter and more competitive state.

As we begin this new year, it is helpful to recall our successes in virtual education; remembering that Florida already is a groundbreaker when it comes to e-learning. The combined public and private offerings for full-time online programs stand at more than 600 degree tracks statewide. This is a tremendous asset for Florida and puts our state in a position to be a national leader, paving the way for expanded access to educational options.

The nations first-ever public online K-12 institution, Florida Virtual School (FLVS), was created right here in Florida in 1997. In the 2011-12 school year, FLVS served 148,000 students. FLVS currently serves students in all 67 Florida school districts, 49 states, and 57 countries, featuring more than 120 courses in high school core subject areas, world languages, electives, honors, and 15 Advanced Placement courses. The schools model has been nationally recognized for its advancements in online learning, putting Florida on the map and garnering worldwide attention for its educational offerings.

Using postsecondary online options already available to increase the pursuit of college degrees in Florida is a natural extension of this online leadership. In 2013, moving beyond K-12 education, Florida can make history again by utilizing the vast array of existing assets in our colleges and universities, and investments already made to build the first online collaborative consortium. A virtual university center would bring together the talents and resources of institutions which have been committed to online learning for many years.

Floridas independent colleges and universities are no stranger to online options for postsecondary careers. Weve been in the business for quite some time. These are resources to be utilized and maximized to help Floridians obtain advanced degrees and certification. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we must expand options, foster collaboration, assist students seeking advancement and add vitality to the Florida workforce. It can be done at a reasonably low cost to taxpayers and help add to the labor pipeline that attracts business and industry to our great state.

Using what we already have in the experienced offerings of our quality public and private universities, we can assist in the recruitment of business to Florida while continuing to revitalize our states workforce.

Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

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