30 Day Challenge – Day 10 – Linear or Exponential

Next week along with my colleague Jeff Nugent, I am leading our second learning path session on online teaching, looking at the evolution of elearning.  Borrowing a page from Brian Lamb, I plan to take the participants on a bit of a historical journey.

  • Mankind first formed social groups about 200,000 years ago
  • Mankind became mobile and left Africa about 70,000 years ago
  • Mankind began to leave visual evidence of culture about 40,000 years ago.
  • Evidence of storytelling emerged about 17,000 years ago
  • Evidence of gaming appeared 8,000 years ago
  • Writing evolved about 5,600 years ago
  • Gutenberg developed the printing press 664 years ago (though the Chinese first developed moveable type 400 years earlier)

In the past hundred years, we have seen communication evolve from radio to television to multimedia on the internet.  Moore’s Law has been evident in the past forty years.  I did my Masters thesis on a Commodore 64 computer…and today carry an iPad with exponentially more power.  In fact, as Brian pointed out, today’s iPad has capabilities that match our human development of social, mobile, visual, storytelling, and gaming.  I include an example of how tablets have changed in the past 200 years:


As Tom Friedman noted in The World is Flat, the internet was one of the forces that flattened and shrunk our planet.  Growth in users and applications has been exponential over the past twenty years.  In that time, online education has evolved and grown as well.  I first began teaching online in 1995, before the advent of LMS technology. At the University of Nebraska, we used a new business software program called Lotus Notes to provide a platform for our first online classes.

But the growth of online learning in higher education has not matched the exponential growth of the internet in other fields.  The latest SLOAN / Babson survey shows:

online enrollment growth

So my question for Day 10 of the 30 Day Challenge (almost in line with “Where are the flying cars?”):

Day 10:  If growth in the internet in users and applications continues to expand exponentially, why has growth in online learning been linear?

This is one I do not have a clue to…but I would be interested in your perspectives.



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3 thoughts on “30 Day Challenge – Day 10 – Linear or Exponential

  1. Perhaps the definition of ‘online learning’ is at the heart of the conundrum.

    If one equates ‘online learning’ with enrollment in a formal course of instruction, then the answer to the question as posed seems to me to be that formal online learning does not appeal to the vast majority of internet users for a multitude of reasons – cost in both $ and time, ROI not favorable in the users estimation, unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the online learning experience, lack of desire to continue formal education due to poor previous experience in public schooling.

    But another way to think about ‘online learning’ is that it has exploded. If ‘online learning’ is defined more loosely as the acquisition of knowledge or skills via the internet – then perhaps the explosion of technology has been equaled or surpassed by the explosion of self gained knowledge. Go to YouTube and google anything how to. Just because that knowledge base is largely practical does not mean it has less value than more formal education or training.

    And there’s another subtle distinction in the definition of ‘online learning’ – practical skill training vs knowledge acquisition.

    So, perhaps how the phrase ‘online learning’ is defined is the key to delving deeper into the issues involved.

  2. Onlearning may be linear in respect to numbers only, but it has shown exponential growth in terms of validation. In the past online courses had the stigma of being a diploma mill. Today, one can achieve a Masters and Doctorate degree from an accredited university. I am proud to have earned my Doctorate degree in nursing from an online program. The stigma is slowly eroding and being replaced with a sense of pride.

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