Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.3, 156-163
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.23022
Crises in Education: Online Learning as a Solution
Hershey H. Friedman1, Linda Weiser Friedman2
1Department of Finance and Business Management, Brooklyn College,
The City University of New York, New York, USA;
2Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, The City University of New York,
New York, USA.
Received June 29th, 2011; revised July 18th, 2011; accepted July 22nd, 2011.
There are three serious problems facing education today. These include working with draconian budgets that
mean reduced spending for education, making education interesting and relevant for students, and raising stan-
dards. Several issues that the legislators are especially concerned about are the low retention rates at the college
level, the high dropout rates in the high schools, and the long time it takes undergraduate students to graduate
college. The authors show how online learning may be an important tool for solving these problems.
Keywords: Online Education, Low Standards, Retention Rate, Graduation Rate, School Assessment, Creativity
in Education, Crises in Education, Accountability in Education
There is concern that the United States is losing its edge as a
world leader in educating its citizens (Blow, 2011; Lee, 2010).
There are at least three serious problems facing education
higher education and K-12today. These include: working
within austere budgets, making education interesting for stu-
dents, and raising standards. There will be those who feel that
educational standards cannot be raised without spending more
money. If this is true, we are in deep trouble since most states
are finding that it is difficult to raise taxes in this economic
climate; pension costs and healthcare costs are soaring and a
large number of people are unemployed and underemployed. It
is doubtful that there will be huge amounts of money available
to hire more teachers and/or reduce class size. Moreover,
spending more money on the same approach to teaching may be
throwing good money after the bad. An innovative solution is
needed which this paper will address. First, let’s examine the
Draconian Budgets for Education
The first problem has to do with the challenging fiscal envi-
ronment affecting almost every state thanks to the Great Reces-
sion of 2008. State budgets are quite austere and it is very
doubtful that there will be money in most of them for additional
buildings for universities (Lewin & Dillon, 2010). The number
of faculty at universities with tenure continues its downward
trend; over the last 30 years, the number of college instructors
with tenure or on a tenure track has plunged from 57% in 1975
to below 30% today (Wilson, 2010). Increasingly, colleges are
relying on adjuncts and faculty on non-tenure tracks to do much
of their teaching. There is no question that the amount of
money available for education will be reduced or at the very
least will not be allowed to increase. Schools all over the coun-
try are being asked to be more productive. Many states are
threatening to lay off teachers. According to C. Jeremiah Ryan,
President of Bergen Community College, in 1965, when the
college was started, only one-third of its cost was borne by
students; today students must bear 78% of the cost (Kristof,
2011). K-12 schools throughout the country have to deal with
budget cuts. In New York City, for example, a last-minute deal
between Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council averted lay-
offs for thousands of school teachers. However, the schools
chancellor told principals that “individual school budgets would
decline by an average of 2.4 percent” (Santos & Hernandez,
Accountability, fiscal responsibility, and faculty productivity
are the latest buzzwords in higher education as well as K-12.
New metrics are being used by schools across the country to
measure productivity. The Texas A & M University system is
using a spreadsheet to evaluate the gains and losses from every
single faculty member. This is calculated by determining the
revenues generated by a faculty member (number of students,
grants, etc.) and deducting the expenses (faculty salary, costs of
labs, etc.). This is also being examined by department (Simon
& Banchero, 2010). The balance sheet is showing that some
faculty members netted the university close to $280,000 for the
2009 fiscal year while others cost the college about $45,000.
Some departments generate gains of more than $5 million while
others cost the college more than $1.4 million. One metric de-
termines amount of earnings per student taught; some profes-
sors (i.e., non-tenured lecturers) teach large classes and earn
about $100 per student while others (full professors teaching
small seminar classes) earn more than $10,000 per student
(Simon & Banchero, 2010).
Like it or not, these performance metrics are being used by
more and more colleges as public officials are demanding more
productivity and accountability and are examining an array of
educational statistics such as graduation rates, retention rates,
number of students that pass professional licensing exams (e.g.,
CPA), median starting salaries of graduates, average student
loan debt, and other such measures. Some states are insisting
that these measures be posted online so that the taxpayer should
have a good idea as to the value of a college degree (Simon &
Banchero, 2010).
Public officials are complaining about the length of time it
takes students to graduate; the typical college student takes six
years and seven months to complete an undergraduate degree
(Alexander, 2009). Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009)
found that less than 40% of students completed college in 4
years or less in the four state educational systems they exam-
ined. Alexander (2009) feels that it should not have to take four
years to earn a college degree. He believes that the “idea of the
fall-to-spring ‘school year’ hasn’t changed much since before
the American Revolution, when we were a nation of farmers.”
Back then, students helped families work their farms during the
summer. It is a huge waste of resources to operate college fa-
cilities for approximately half the calendar year and allow fa-
cilities to sit idle for so much time (Alexander, 2009).
Brainard (2010) believes that colleges that offer a large
number of small academic programs are at risk. Colleges all
over the world are looking for ways to save money; the easiest
way to do this is to close down small academic programs. Ac-
cording to Brainard (2010), at least 25% of all academic pro-
grams offered at a typical college are small (fewer than 7 de-
grees awarded in 2007-2008 AY). Programs that tend to be
small are physics and Germanic languages (Brainard, 2010).
Recently, SUNY Albany announced that it was shutting down
programs in Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theater. The
reason given by the president of the university was deep budget
cuts (Jaschik, 2010). The choice for administrators is either to
weaken all the departments in the university or to eliminate a
few programs and keep the others strong.
Education Can Be Boring and Irrelevant
The second serious problem facing education is that school is
simply not interesting to a significant number of students; this
may partially explain the low retention rate. A large number of
students quit college and fail to graduate not because of eco-
nomic factors, but because they find college boring. These stu-
dents need to be motivated (Carnes, 2011). Improving retention
rates has become a mantra at many colleges. Derek Bok, former
president of Harvard, feels that education has to move from “a
teacher-oriented system featuring lectures delivered to passive
audiences” to a “learner-centered process in which students
become more actively involved in their own education” (Carnes,
High school principals are looking for ways to reduce the
dropout rate. We have a huge high school dropout rate –50% in
various minority communities and almost 80% in Native
American communitiesand this demonstrates what happens
when students are not finding subjects that excite them and
stimulate their thirst for knowledge (Azzam, 2009). Classroom
learning with a standard curriculum taught to young people of a
single age group, rather than segregated by interest or abilities,
may not be the way to go in the Internet Age. In fact, Robinson
feels that our education system sucks out the creative capacities
of young people (Robinson, 2008). Moreover, students are
bored with the courses they must take. Eighty percent of teen-
agers say they are “marking time, trying to get through school
and get out of it”; 40% of teenagers claim that success in school
is something ridiculed amongst their peers and they feel pres-
sure to do poorly (Robinson, 2005).
Brown (2000) asserts that the Web has created a “new kind
of information fabric in which learning, working, and playing
co-mingle.” He adds that the Web is also “two-way, push and
pull.” The old method of lecturing passive students is a “push”
approach that does not work for many students and is probably
boring to them. Clearly, we have to transform education and
make learning fun. It is embarrassing when television cameras
show “students dozing in lecture halls” (Carnes, 2011).
Robinson (2005) believes that the current system of educa-
tion is antiquated as it was designed with a production line
mentality. Essentially, it was created in the 19th Century to meet
the needs of large industries as we moved away from agricul-
ture. Industrialism back then needed workers who were literate;
creativity was not that important. Before that there was no pub-
lic education since the prevailing belief was that the common
man could not learn very much. A classic education was for the
gentleman. This changed with the Age of Enlightenment and
the Industrial Revolution. Education must provide students with
the tools to be creative and the ability to solve problems even
when circumstances have changed so that a simple answer is
not apparent.
Robinson (2005) feels that the enemy of creativity is stan-
dardization. Education today focuses on standardized exams
and standardized curriculum. The corporate world needs people
who understand divergent thinking, seeing multiple answers to
a problem. Schools today rely heavily on standardized tests
which teach students that problems have one answer. Some
subjects are considered extremely important such as languages
and math; others are considered unimportant such as art, music,
drama, and dance. Robinson feels that the arts help develop the
creativity skills that are so crucial for the leaders of the 21st
Education May Have Low Standards
Raising standards and grade inflation are issues for high
school as well as college. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has
predicted that it is possible that 80% of the nation’s 100,000
public schools could get failing grades according to the current
provisions in the federal “No Child Left Behind Law.” This is
why Duncan is urging Congress to rewrite the law to be more
flexible (Dillon, 2011a). Duncan is threatening to grant waivers
if the law is not rewritten. Congress is working on laws dealing
with teacher effectiveness requirements and accountability of
schools. There is a great reliance on standardized tests to de-
termine teacher and school effectiveness. Creation of charter
schools has been one supposed solution to the problem of fail-
ing schools, but clearly these schools have not been a panacea.
At K-12 schools throughout the country, evaluation systems
are being used to assess teacher performance and thereby solve
the problem of ineffective schools. The National Education
Association has changed its position regarding teacher evalua-
tions and is now also in agreement with the position that “evi-
dence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations
of school teachers” (Otterman, 2011a). One evaluation system
known as Impact is being used to grade teachers and is becom-
ing a model for school systems throughout the country. Evalua-
tion of teachers is usually based on classroom observations as
well as test scores of students. The big question with any
evaluation system is whether it takes socioeconomic factors
into account; it is much more difficult to teach in poor neighbor-
hoods where students have many needs than in affluent, middle
class neighborhoods (Dillon, 2011b). Shapiro (2004: p. 167)
“Educational quality results primarily from where children
live and the resources their parents provide… As we have seen,
quality schools and substandard schools are not distributed
randomly; schools commonly reflect a community’s wealth and
class and race composition.”
Thus, it is not only the children attending the middle class
schools that have an advantage; it may also be the faculty
teaching there.
Many high schools are graduating students that do not have
the required skills to do well in college. New York City, for
example, is tracking City University of New York (CUNY)
remediation rates, the percentage of high school students who
fail at least one CUNY entrance exam and therefore need reme-
diation. Also, monitored are high school graduation rates. The
graduation rate from NYC high schools rose to 61% in 2010
from 52.8% in 2007. However, the remediation rate was 49% in
2010; it was 45% in 2007 (Phillips and Gebeloff, 2011). About
two-thirds of high schools that were rated A in NYC by the
Education Department’s School Assessment System had reme-
diation of 50% or more (Phillips and Gebeloff, 2011). One can
safely assume that this problem of high school graduates need-
ing remediation is not limited to New York City.
Ravitch (2011) warns of the dangers of relying too heavily
on test scores. Often, the improvements are fleeting and scores
return to “normal” after a year or two. She cites the example of
PS 33 in the Bronx where there was an amazing improve-
mentfrom 34% in 2004 to 83% in 2005in the percentage of
students who met minimum state reading standards. Mayor
Bloomberg of NY held a news conference to tout the success of
his changes in education. Unfortunately, by 2010, the pass rate
was at 37%. Ravitch (2011) emphasizes that there are no mi-
raculous solutions to make schools better. Coming from a sta-
ble family that encourages learning is probably more important
when it comes to education than quick fixes involving firing
principals and teachers and / or shutting down schools.
Arum and Roksa (2011) claim that a significant number of
college students only barely improve their skills in the vital
areas of critical thinking, writing, and problem solving/critical
reasoning. Indeed, after four years, 36% had made no signifi-
cant gains in those three areas. The average amount of time that
college students spend studying is now less than half of what it
was in the 1960s.
Many of us still remember when the United States was a
world leader in education. Today, we are doing poorly on many
measures of performance when it comes to education. We are,
however, a world leader when it comes to “Prison Population
per 100,000 citizens”743 is probably the highest in the world.
When it comes to education, our scores on the math scale (487)
and the science scale (502) are pathetic (Blow, 2011). Blow
(2011) makes the point that many others have made:
Financing for education and social services isn’t simply
about handouts to the hardscrabble, it is about building an in-
frastructure that can produce healthy, engaged and well-edu-
cated citizens who can compete in an increasingly cutthroat
global economy
The scores for the 2009 PISA (Program for International
Student Assessment) test indicated that United States 15-year
olds scored 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math out
of 65 countries tested. It is clear, according to Arne Duncan,
that “we’re being out-educated.” The countries that did very
well on the PISA test were China, South Korea, and Finland
(Lee, 2010).
Goals of Education
Before addressing the solution to the twin problems of edu-
cation being boring and ineffective, it is important to answer
the question of “What are the goals of education?” This is not a
trivial question. The world has changed thanks to the Internet
and skills that were valuable in the past may not be so impor-
tant today. As an example, take spelling. Is this a valuable skill
in the age of spelling checkers? Few high schools teach stu-
dents how to calculate logarithms and square roots using the
old methods; this is all done with calculators. Is there any value
in this day and age to know how to calculate a standard devia-
tion with a pencil and paper?
We have progressed far beyond the days when a school
taught the “three R’s” of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Many
schools have lists describing the goals of general education that
include critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, ability to
communicate, understanding the importance of cultural diver-
sity, ability to make ethical judgments, appreciation of the fine
arts, encouragement of lifelong learning, and more. Some feel
that there are essentially three skills students must have in order
to succeed in the knowledge economy: “… critical thinking and
problem solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and
the ability to collaborate” (Friedman, 2010). Most would agree
that the true job of an educator is to provide students with an
unquenchable thirst for knowledge and the ability to acquire it.
Albert Einstein once said: “I never teach my pupils. I only at-
tempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”
(Moncur, 2004).
It is becoming apparent that the ability to work productively
with others is an important goal of education. Collaboration and
teamwork are vital in almost every enterprise. Hardly any oc-
cupation allows individuals to work alone without input from
others. Learning how to communicate and work with others
should also be a goal of education (Robinson, 2008). It is very
difficult to be creative in this day and age if one works alone.
Indeed, the ability to communicate has little value if one does
not possess the ability to be part of a team. Pink (2006: p. 3)
believes that “the defining skills of the previous era
‘left-brain’ capabilities that powered the Information Ageare
necessary but no longer sufficient.” The skills that are valuable
today, in the Conceptual Age, include such factors as creativity,
empathy, happiness, and meaning.
Surprisingly, skills such as storytelling, which requires the
ability to communicate in a creative way, are important in the
business world. Xerox, for example, discovered that repair
personnel used stories rather than information in manuals as a
way of finding out what was wrong with a machine. These
stories were collected and are now part of a database (Eureka)
that is worth millions to Xerox (Pink, 2006: p. 108). Medical
schools are teaching future physicians to listen empathetically
to patients’ ailments. These ailments are told in narrative form
and the ability to interpret and respond to the stories is crucial if
a doctor wants to heal the patient (Pink, 2006: p. 112).
Even the disciplines of today are changing rapidly because of
convergence. There are many more specialties today than in the
past and there is much more “boundary crossing and interdisci-
plinary activity” (Klein, 1996: p. 42). Klein (1996: p. 191) as-
serts: “Almost all significant growth in research in recent dec-
ades, the committee [National Research Council] concluded,
has occurred at the ‘interdisciplinary borderlands’ between
established fields.” It is unrealistic to believe that an educator
from one discipline will be able to provide the necessary
knowledge to solve problems that will arise two decades, or
even 10 years later. This means that successful people will need
the ability to work and communicate with individuals from
other disciplines. This is another reason that an appreciation of
diversity is so important. It is not only about ethnic diversity
but also diversity of ideas.
According to Robinson (2005), companies today believe the
most important challenge is “finding people who could make
good decisions in times of uncertainty, who can adapt to new
opportunities and respond creatively to change.” He observes
that in 1997, only 74 companies of the original Standard &
Poor list of top 500 corporations (published in 1957) were still
around (Robinson, 2005).
Brown (2000) is of the opinion that the goal of education is
to teach students information navigation, i.e., how to find useful
information on the Internet. Students know how to use the
Internet for social reasons, but many do not have the tools to
use it to find reliable, valid information. The day where stu-
dents go to the brick-and-mortar library and find books and
magazines to do research is almost obsolete. Today, a good
researcher knows how to use the Internet.
Thus, the goals of education have to go beyond the three R’s
in the Internet/Conceptual Age. The following skills are neces-
Critical Thinking. Creativity. The ability to think critically,
creatively, and outside one’s discipline. This entails the facility
to respond quickly and decisively and make decisions when the
business environment changes.
Lifelong learning. A love for learning that will ensure that
one is always acquiring knowledge.
Communication and collaboration. The ability to collaborate
and work with others using all kinds of computer technology
including Wikis, blogs, etc. This includes the capability to work
with people with all kinds of backgrounds from all over the
Information literacy. The ability to navigate the Internet and
retrieve useful information
Online Learning as a Solution
There is a great deal of evidence that supports the view that
online learning is effective with college students. Courses that
blend online with traditional classroom learning appear to be
the most effective way to teach courses for college students.
Means et al. (2009) did a meta-analysis of more than 1000
studies published from 1996 to 2008 comparing online with
traditional classroom teaching. What they found was that online
learning does offer many advantages over traditional classroom
learning. In fact, students who take courses that are either com-
pletely or partially online will perform better than students
taking traditional, face-to-face courses. Interestingly, hybrid
courses that combine classroom learning with online learning
seem to be the best of all delivery methods. Means et al. (2009)
“Despite what appears to be strong support for online learn-
ing applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not dem-
onstrate that online learning is superior as a medium. In many
of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the
online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent,
curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements
in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included
additional learning time and materials as well as additional
opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed
learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that
online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of
learning time than is face-to-face instruction.”
Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause, made the follow-
ing statement in response to the above study: “Online education
provides additional opportunities. It gives people greater op-
portunity for flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrat-
ing things in multiple ways such as visualization.” She empha-
sized that the study makes it quite obvious that colleges have to
make sure to use online education and not insist on only offer-
ing courses using traditional, face-to-face instruction (Jaschik,
The Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University
has been using hybrid courses that combine online and tradi-
tional classroom courses to accelerate learning. In one study
involving different approaches to teach statistics, a comparison
was made of a traditional class with a hybrid class. The tradi-
tional class met for 15 weeks, 4 times a week. The hybrid class
met twice a week for 7 1/2 weeks. Students in the hybrid class
had test scores and retention scores that were equal to or better
than those for the students in the traditional classroom (Lohr,
2010). It appears that a hybrid approach can enhance productiv-
ity even with a course as difficult as statistics.
Bernard et al. (2009) performed a meta-analysis on the dis-
tance education literature and examined three types of interac-
tion treatments: student-student (SS), student-teacher (ST), and
student-content (SC). Student-student interaction may be built
into distance education courses through the use of group pro-
jects. Student-teacher interactions are easy in hybrid courses
where there are some face-to-face meetings and a bit more dif-
ficult in fully online courses. Even with fully online courses,
student-teacher interactions can occur via the use of email,
phone calls, discussion boards, chats, and videoconferencing.
Student-content interactions can be effected by having students
read online material, collect information, or watch a video.
Brown (2000) claims that classes that use a taped lecture format
in which a group of students that can stop the tape every few
minutes so that the group can discuss it and clarify ambiguities
is superior to the traditional classroom lecture. This approach
allows student-student interaction which can enhance learning.
Bernard et al. (2009) conclude that all three types of interac-
tions are important and should be an important part of fully
online courses since they enhance student learning as well as
satisfaction. Web 2.0 technologies are making it less costly and
much easier for students to collaborate and to engage in stu-
dent-student interaction. The research in the field is supporting
the idea that three kinds of interaction are very important in
learning (Wanstreet, 2006; Swan, 2002). Battalio (2007), how-
ever, concludes that not all students have the same learning
styles. Some students may prefer learning in a traditional, face-
to-face environment; others may thrive in fully online courses.
The belief that the best way for students to learn is via tradi-
tional, face-to-face classes is rapidly becoming obsolete. The
best one can claim is that the traditional class offers advantages
for some students.
There are many advantages to offering online classes both at
the high school level as well as in colleges. The following are
just a few of the advantages.
Online Education as a Way to Save Money
It is evident that academe will have to learn to be more pro-
ductive. Education will have to learn from what retailers have
done. Many retailers have moved from a brick-and-mortar ap-
proach to a click-and-mortar approach. This means fewer
buildings but an expanded presence on the Internet; consumers
can make purchases both at physical stores and online. Thus,
for example, Wal-Mart sells products at many stores but also
does a brisk business online. The publishing industry has also
made changes to its business model. E-books may not totally
replace paper books but companies that want to survive must
offer both. College textbook publishers currently offer both
types of books as well as a great deal of material using the web.
Textbooks often come with a homework manager that enables
students to do homework online and get immediate feedback.
Banks have buildings but also provide service at thousands of
ATMs throughout the world.
Colleges and universities will also have to become flexible.
By offering more online and hybrid courses, less physical space
will be required. Traditionally, a college would offer a 3-credit
class, say, on Monday/Wednesday from 9:15 AM to 10:30 AM
in a particular room. With hybrid classes (say, 50% online), the
same room could be used for two hybrid sections: one meeting
on Monday from 9:15 AM to 10:30 AM and the other meeting
in the same room on Wednesday from 9:15 AM to 10:30 AM.
Using a click and mortar approach to education would reduce
the needs for physical space. With fully online classes, the need
for physical plant is reduced even further.
There is a growing need for educating the nation’s labor
force. It is obvious that most new jobs require considerably
more than just a high school diploma. Today’s jobs require at
the very least a community college degree (Lohr, 2010). Un-
fortunately, state budgets are being very drastically cut and
there will be little or no money to expand postsecondary educa-
tion. This is a key reason that several foundations including the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora
Hewitt Foundation are providing funds for postsecondary
online courses. The Next Generation Learning Challenges is
targeted to college students and is seeking innovative techno-
logical tools that can be shared by colleges and used to assist
teachers. The goal is to develop online courses and tools to
expand education without increasing state budgets that are al-
ready stretched too thin (Lohr, 2010). MIT is already making
online lectures and coursework available on the Internet to the
public via its OpenCourseWare website (
courses/). An organization that was established to help spread
knowledge via the Internet by making courses and lectures
available to all is Academic Earth. Academic Earth states on its
website that it “is an organization founded with the goal of
giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education”
Money is tight and colleges need students. Unfortunately,
students today have to work to pay for their steadily-rising tui-
tion. College students are highly likely to work while pursuing
a degree. In fact, about 78% of college students had at least
part-time employment during the 2003-2004 academic year. On
average, students worked approximately 30 hours per week
(American Council on Education, 2006). This means that stu-
dents will often require very flexible schedules. Many students
are receiving financial aid which means that they will have to
be full time. It can be quite daunting to be a full-time student
and work for 30 hours per week when all courses are traditional.
By offering a blend of traditional, hybrid, and fully online
courses, it is less difficult to find courses to take. On the other
hand, one serious disadvantage of colleges that are completely
online is that students miss out on the college-life experience.
Colleges that use the click-and-mortar approach and offer
online as well as traditional courses allow for college life and
indeed may open it up to a wider audience who otherwise could
not afford to go to college.
Enhancing Creativity and Making Classes More
There was a time when laughter was seen as a problem in the
workplace. People on the assembly line at Ford Motor Com-
pany during the 1930s and 1940s were fired for laughing or
smiling while working. Ford’s philosophy was: “When we are
at work, we ought to be at work. When we are at play, we ought
to be at play. There is no use in trying to mix the two.” Today,
many firms want employees to be happy at work since they feel
it increases productivity and profits. The mission statement of
Southwest Airlines says it all: “People rarely succeed at any-
thing unless they are having fun doing it.” (Pink, 2006: pp.
186-187; Collinson, 2002). The same might be done for educa-
tion: teach students to be creative and make learning fun. This
can be accomplished by using online tools and not relying
solely on classroom lectures.
Many educators sneer at video games and think that they are
a waste of time. Some video games may not be a waste of time
in the Conceptual Age. Studies are finding that playing video
games may sharpen the skills of physicians involved in laparo-
scopic surgery and help in decision making (Pink, 2006: 193).
Gee (2003) feels that “when kids play video games they can
experience a much more powerful form of learning than when
they’re in the classroom. Learning isn’t about memorizing iso-
lated facts. It’s about connecting them and manipulating them.”
The right kind of video game may help enhance the creativity
of students while making education interesting. Students to-
day are more likely to find a game more fun than a lecture.
Courses that are offered fully or partially online can enhance
creativity since they can use numerous teaching tools that in-
clude animations, videos, wikis, blogs, web links, webinars,
and virtual labs.
Brown (2000) asserts that young people today are always
“multiprocessing” and conducting several tasks simultaneously.
Many can be working on the computer, talking on their cell
phones, and listening to music, all at the same time! One can
imagine how bored students might be with the traditional ap-
proach where the instructor lectures while students take notes.
Asking students to listen to a YouTube lecture given by a
recognized scholar may be more effective than lecturing. One
suspects that watching a television show on the History Chan-
nel might be more effective than having students listen to a
lecture about the same subject. At the very least, an online
course can use different approaches to teaching material.
As noted above, standardization is the enemy of creativity. It
is true that all students need certain basic skills. However, does
this mean that all students should take the same courses? Most
high schools do not have the resources to offer more than a few
electives. This, in effect, means that almost everyone takes the
same courses. This reminds one of a prison cafeteria: all pris-
oners have to eat the same food. Variety is a luxury not avail-
able to people in prison Schools, however, are not prisons.
Young people need variety; not everyone is interested in the
same subjects.
There are high schools in New York that are allowing stu-
dents to earn credits in innovative ways. To graduate from a
New York City public high school, a minimum of 44 credits
must be earned8 credits in English; 8 credits in Social Stud-
ies; 6 in Science; 6 in Math; 2 in Art; 2 in Foreign Language; 4
in gym; 1 in Health; and 7 elective credits (Otterman, 2011b).
One high school allows students to take a sailing course to earn
science or gym credit. The course is offered for free by a non-
profit organization in NYC. The curriculum was developed
with the help of a teacher who is certified. In order to receive
math credit, students solve distance problems involving sailing
a boat and taking into account speed and wind conditions. Stu-
dents learn practical applications of trigonometry in sailing
boats (Otterman, 2011b). Some students earn physical educa-
tion credits by volunteering at fitness centers in the various
Y.M.C.A.s in the city. Some high schools allow students to
earn credits via internships; some students have internships at a
film-making studio that teach them how to write and produce
Offering online courses to young people may be a simple
way for schools ranging from kindergarten through graduate
school to broaden the offerings. Students in high school can be
offered a “cafeteria” education which allows them to choose the
courses they wish to take instead of everyone taking exactly the
same courses. Certainly, every student has to be taught basic
reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. However, there is no
reason to have students take almost the same courses from K-12.
Also, using online courses allows students to learn at their own
pace. Logically, there is no reason that every student taking, say,
a high school course in biology should have one academic year
to learn the course. People learn at different rates. Schools that
wish to encourage creativity should give students flexibility as
to which courses to take (with the understanding that some
courses are required of all) and how much time to spend on the
course. Students should be able to complete the course in two
months, rather than 10 months, if they have the ability and in-
terest. The idea that everyone has to be in high school for four
years is another idea that must be rethought. Clearly, something
must be wrong if a significant number of students are truant on
a regular basis and drop out as soon as they are legally permit-
ted to do so.
Websites such as Academic Earth and YouTube EDU which
collect free lectures from top institutions such as Harvard, MIT,
Princeton, and Yale and make them accessible in one place
have made it very easy to offer courses to students with an in-
terest in exotic areas. Universities such as Brigham Young
University currently offer online courses to junior high school
students ( Eventually, we will see free
websites that offer classes for students of all ages. One entre-
preneur, Shai Reshef, has created a free online University. Re-
shef is the chairman of Cramster, an online study community
for high school and college students where they can get help
with their homework. According to the mission statement of the
university (
“University of the People (UoPeople) is a non-profit organi-
zation devoted to providing universal access to quality, online
post-secondary education to qualified students. The vision of
University of the People is grounded in the belief that universal
access to education is a key ingredient in the promotion of
world peace and global economic development.”
There are some exciting courses given all over the world.
Online is one way to bring these courses to any school or col-
lege. For example, Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University
political philosopher, offers a class in “Justice” that is world
renown and is among the most popular courses ever offered
there. The course addresses questions such as: “How much is a
human life worth?”; “Is it ever wrong to tell the truth?”; and
“Would you steal a drug to save your child’s life?” Approxi-
mately 15,000 Harvard University students have taken the
course. The classes are now available online for free at (Friedman, 2011). Harvard’s most
popular course, “Positive Psychology,” known as the “happi-
ness course”it teaches students the secret of being happy
is also available online. This is a course offered by Professor
Tal Ben-Shahar and attracts close to 900 students per semester.
Closely tied to the idea of creativity is reconsidering the col-
lege curriculum, especially the major. The traditional belief is
that the idea of an academic major dates back to 1877 and first
appeared in a Johns Hopkins University catalog (Glenn &
Fischer, 2009). Today, virtually every college requires a spe-
cialized major. The amount of knowledge continues to increase
exponentially which means that the number of departments,
minors, and majors should be increasing. Indeed, there are a
large number of majors (and jobs) today that did not exist 20
years ago. Harvard College reorganized into six “departments”
back in 1815. It should be noted that those were not actually
departments as we define them today; the modern departmental
structure actually dates back to somewhere around the 1890s
(Klein, 1996: p. 53).
There is now strong evidence that the value of an under-
graduate college degree depends on the major (Supiano, 2011);
median income for counseling-psychology majors was the
lowest ($29,000) and highest for petroleum-engineering majors
($120,000). It should also be noted that the returns from a col-
lege degree are about 15% per annum; college graduates, on
average, earn 83% more than those with only a high school
diploma (Leonhardt, 2011). Major may affect one’s earnings
but there is a considerable amount of evidence that a college
graduate performing a job that does not require a degreee.g.,
dishwasher, childcare worker, dental hygienist, hairdresser,
cashier, plumber, firefighter, secretary, etc.will still earn
considerably more than a high school graduate doing the same
job (Leonhardt, 2011).
The top 10 majors during the 2006-2007 academic year were
about the same (with a somewhat different order) as those of
the 1980-1981 academic year (Glenn & Fischer, 2009). This is
not necessarily a good thing given how much has changed in
the last 25 years. In many colleges, it is very costly to introduce
new majors in response to the demands of the market, because
of some new social/cultural concern, or because of a scientific
innovation. There is no way to know whether an area that is
popular today will be in demand 10 years later. Sometimes, one
area can grow into dozens of areas. For example, in the 1960s,
many colleges opened up an Africana Studies department in
response to the growing social concern with the way Afri-
can-Americans were being treated. Today, these schools may
have departments of Asian Studies, Jewish Studies, Italian
Studies, Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, Children Studies, Middle
Eastern Studies, Gay Studies, and Women’s Studies.
Allowing students to create their own majors is another way
to enhance creativity. The cost of doing so is not prohibitive if
online courses from other universities can be utilized. For in-
stance, a student might be able to major in alternative energy
and use the Internet to find courses that might not be available
in his/her own college. The problem of small programs can be
solved if these programs are online. Providing online courses to
supplement regular courses can also help students seeking mi-
nors. There is some controversy as to whether a minor is a good
idea or not (Slatalla, 2008). There are those who feel it provides
an edge in the job market by signaling to potential employers
that one has some specialized knowledge in another discipline.
For example, a minor in a foreign language sends a very strong
message regarding some very concrete knowledge that an ap-
plicant possesses. Online courses can also make it easier to
offer a wide variety of minors to interested students.
Solutions to problems will require creative people who think
outside the discipline and are not constrained by the models and
methods of a single discipline (Friedman, Friedman, & Pollack,
2008). Online courses offer an inexpensive way for students to
add minors and/or second majors and thereby provide students
with the flexibility necessary to see how other disciplines deal
with problems.
Improving Student Proficiency in K-12
Unfortunately, there is very little research on the value of
online education when it comes to K-12 (Means et al., 2009).
There is some evidence, however, that schooling can help in-
crease the IQ of students. IQs actually drop during summer
vacation when children are not in school (Nisbett, 2009). Nis-
bett (2009) believes that government should invest in intensive
early childhood programs such as the Knowledge is Power
Program (KIPP). More education results in higher IQ scores for
children and higher IQ scores are correlated with success. It is
quite obvious that it is probably too costly for most countries to
keep schools open for most of the summer. However, it may
not be that difficult to try offering a limited number of online
courses for high school students. The cost would be reasonable
and this way students can practice reading, writing, and some
arithmetic during the summer. This way, they would not forget
everything they learned during summer vacation. Online educa-
tion can also be used on children before starting school at the
age of 6. Children can learn a great deal between the ages of 3
and 6 and a Head Start Program that is fully online should be
Online courses can be used to make the senior year of high
school more interesting. It may also allow some students to
complete high school in three years. Many students do not ac-
complish much in the senior year of high school and it might be
an ideal time to offer online college courses for credit.
Institutions across the country have increased their offerings
of online and hybrid programs and classes. The flexibility and
convenience of these programs provide more opportunity for
individuals to achieve their goal of more personal and profes-
sional development, while increasing brand and revenue poten-
tial for the institution. There were more than 4.6 million stu-
dents enrolled in at least one online course in the U.S. during
fall 2008, with about 83 percent studying at the undergraduate
level, 14 percent at the graduate level and the rest in some
“other” for-credit course (Allen & Seaman, 2010). While the
number of programs and courses online continue to grow, the
acceptance of this learning modality by faculty has been rela-
tively constant since first measured in 2002 (Allen & Seaman,
Given the crises in education, the authors feel that schools
from kindergarten to doctoral programs should be experiment-
ing with online classes. Reliance on additional funding from
government for education is probably not realistic and any so-
lution to improve the educational system in the United States
will have to be cost-effective. Online classes are not a panacea
but, if used wisely, can help improve student learning and allow
schools to offer a greater selection of interesting courses. It may
also help reduce the dropout rates at the high school and college
level. There are some who believe that “the general skills that
colleges teach, like discipline and persistence, may be more
important than academics anyway” (Leonhardt, 2011). If this is
the case, then online may be even more valuable as a tool than
traditional classroom teaching in instructing students in disci-
pline and persistence. Offering online courses could help im-
prove the time it takes to complete a degree and simultaneously
reduce the need for brick-and-mortar facilities.
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