An Online Degree, Like an Online Girlfriend

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What’s keeping people from thinking online colleges are legitimate? Is it just prejudice, or is it a reflection of reality.

According to a piece by Alex Taussig in Fortune, it’s only a matter of time before we all think online is totally okay. Taussig, however, is probably wrong.

As he writes:

If polled, I’d imagine most would associate online education with those late-night “go to school in your PJs” commercials. To some, online education may feel like online dating sites felt 10-15 years ago: sketchy at worst, a poor substitute for the real thing at best.

Yet, today Match.com claims that 17% of married couples met online. While that number is probably too high, most of us know at least one of these couples. Furthermore, the stigma attached to this concept is gone. In fact, many tout the efficiencies of an online matching service, especially for older professionals who don’t have time to play the scene.

Fast-forward 10-15 years. I think online education will be a lot like online dating is today: Pervasive and of acceptable, even higher quality.

Well no. While this sort of thing looks analogous, it isn’t.

Online college is not like online dating. That’s because what most of us think of as “online dating” is really only an online matchup, a way of finding people online. The actual courtship takes place in the real world. There are people who have relationships entirely online, but those relationships are, well, different….

Like with dating, there’s a lot of online content that can help improve both the quality and efficiency of education. But online content probably won’t replace education, and that’s because the college experience is not just about getting a piece of paper that indicates that you’ve earned about 120 credits of academic work. College is actually supposed to take place in the real world. People understand this and that’s why people who have money will always go to such schools.

As long as people continue to attend colleges (and they will, because they rather like them), online colleges will seem less legitimate. Sure there are ways to get an education another way, but let’s stop pretending such an education is equivalent to a normal one.

There are people who conduct all online relationships, too. But those online relationships are shallow and weak. And the people who involved in them are mostly, well, losers. There’s actually been a great proliferation of this sort of thing as the internet has evolved. Sure it’s kind of a relationship and, yes, it’s taking place entirely due to advances in technology. But these relationships aren’t going to replace real ones, because they’re just not as good.

Online college is probably just like that; there’s going to be a lot more of it, and it’s not going to be that great. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

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