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  1. Chris Lott
    October 22, 2010 - 9:01 am

    I’ve worked for a long time in distance education with an institution that offers some courses with rolling enrollment, so what is being discussed here is of critical importance. Two factors that strongly affect us: institutional metrics that put a value on “success” as determined by completion that makes rolling enrollment courses, which typically have significantly lower success rates, a target (or make *us* a target for offering them), and the struggle to figure out how many students are “enough” to allow for community and group learning effects. I love the *idea* of continuous enrollment much more than I like the reality… so far.

  2. Linda Harasim
    October 23, 2010 - 2:13 am

    Hi Chris:

    Your comments on rolling or continuous enrollment are intriguing and important, because they raise some fundamental questions: why rolling enrollment? are collaborative learning approaches possible in such a context, and if so, how? I do not have practical experience in this area, but over the years discussions related to the challenge of using “online collaborative learning’ approaches in the context of rolling enrollment have given me some connection with this format.

    Based on my discussions and my thinking on the topic, I would say that collaborative learning approaches are NOT possible in the context of rolling enrollment because there is NO SHARED OBJECT. No way to organize shared discourse if enrollment is diverse and participation idiosyncratic. Collaboration requires some common ground: time and/or space and topic. Discourse is the key to knowledge building, and without group discourse, learning is reduced to knowledge transmission and knowledge acquisition tasks (memorization, etc): a very static and limited approach to learning.

    So, if that speaks to my 2nd question, what about the first: why the rolling model? It seems to me that this approach was really terrific and revolutionary in the context of the monopoly of traditional classroom approaches in the 20th century, when the need for mass education and educational access was intense. Distance ed broke the mold and sought to overcome obstacles to learning based on time and place.

    The need for educational access remains intense, however today we have Internet technologies which enable us to transcend traditional boundaries of time and place, while enabling the more effective, satisfying and relevant learning pedagogies: asynchronous collaboration and knowledge building. There is an element of rolling time (and place-independence) but it is bounded, limited in order to enable group discussion and debate.

    Is there still a real argument for rolling enrollment that is unbounded? I ask this with great respect for distance ed. If there is, what is it? How do the benefits relate to the problems for learners? Unbounded or rolling enrollment employs individualized learning approaches which are cheaper for the institution because they require less (or no) teacher or moderator involvement, but the human learning cost is huge. As you noted, drop out rates are significant and the effectiveness of individualized learning is in question.

    What do you think? Do many institutions still use rolling enrollment? What are the arguments for this?
    I look forward to hearing from you and others on this topic.


  3. Lesley Reilly
    October 28, 2010 - 8:16 am

    Thanks for posting this. I personally am not a fan of the self-paced model. I am a self-motivated person and I could probably complete any self-paced course successfully. However, if I had the opportunity to take the same course content with a cohort of other students where a discussion board and collaboration was integrated into the design, I have no doubt that I would learn much more and enjoy the experience much more as well.

    I believe the learning community is essential in online learning. Certainly sitting at a computer can be isolating but not as much if you have the opportunity to share your ideas and more importantly have them challenged. I also wonder about assessment in self-paced courses. I imagine the majority of self-paced courses are not facilitated which means assessment is probably primary multiple choice questions and surveys. While I do a lot of independent learning online, if I am paying for a course, I appreciate the guidance and feedback of an experienced instructor.

    I am starting to feel nervous as I see more fully online schools popping up and targeting students as young as 10. Many of them seem to target the home-school market and many seem to be self-paced. I am hoping that we can start to think more carefully as we grow online learning to ensure that collaboration and interaction is still paramount!

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