Dave Murray of the Grand Rapids Press had a column last week called “Can college students learn as much from an online class?” which features the almost evergreen discussion about whether or not colleges are actually as effective online. There are, we know now, many people enrolled in college online. As Murray explains:

Robert Mendenhall is president of Western Governors University, an online college that a Nov. 17, 2008 Time magazine article called “The best relatively cheap university you’ve never heard of.”

Mendenhall told us that he offers a different model of higher education that’s not a threat to the traditional methods. That’s because it attracts a lot of non-traditional students, people who work full-time and can get to a computer to do their work late in the evening.

Interesting, but one wonders if the practicality of an online school is also what’s wrong with it. The problem in all this discussion of online education is that people will often point out that, fundamentally, college is made up of reading and lectures. If both of those things can be done online, why both spending so much money to physically go to the place where classes are taught? Why not just take the classes online?

The odd thing about this piece was that it was called “Can college students learn as much from an online class?” but the author never really answered the question. The answer is, well, sometimes. If your online class is “Introduction to Early Medieval History” then you can probably learn it remotely. If, however, your class is anything physical or most things scientific, online won’t work at all.

The article goes on to quote Northwestern University’s new president, Morton Schapiro. Schapiro “said there is too much more to an education obtained from a select university that needs to be accomplished on campus.”

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer