Access to computers isn’t enough for equity in online learning

Even before the global pandemic pushed many colleges and universities to teach students remotely, online learning had become an increasingly important part of higher education.

Yet, as this spring’s pivot to online learning showed us, equity remains a significant challenge.

Debate about the fairness of online learning tends to revolve around technology access. And there are indeed sharp disparities in home access to computers and reliable broadband service.

But equity in online learning is more than simply making sure students have decent technology and fast internet. Every student — not just the marginalized and disenfranchised — needs sound course design, sufficient student support and testing programs that make sense and protect integrity.

“At this time in our history, the global pandemic presents a unique opportunity to establish and refine an online learning model that is fair and equitable for all students.”

My company, StraighterLine, exists to help get students halfway through college by quickly and affordably completing their prerequisites. We have partnerships to recognize credits with 150 colleges and universities. We’ve been on the front lines of equity and access for more than a decade, and we know how financial challenges, a lack of opportunities in high school or simply life’s twists and turns can prevent someone from completing a degree.

We also know how to deliver high-quality online instruction to overcome these barriers. We’ve taught more than 150,000 students fully online in the last 10 years — including 35,000 students in 2019.  

Three critical elements of online learning make it fair for everyone.

1. Courses must be designed so that content is easily accessible.

This is important for any class, but especially those wholly online, where students might not have the benefit of live, just-in-time support from an instructor at the moment they’re struggling.

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