Op-Ed: Addressing the STEM Challenge Through Distance Learning
U.S. News & World Report – May 5, 2014
by Kevin Melendy
The United States, ranked 26th in STEM education, is in crisis to differentiate itself in the global economy – an economy in which innovation serves as the hallmark for success. Of great concern is the fact that while today’s educators believe their STEM graduates complete school with 70 percent of the employable skills they will need in the marketplace, employers have found this number to be closer to 50 percent. While statistics differ, both industry and higher education agree that there is a substantial gap that must be filled regarding our employable workforce.
The bulk of today’s STEM initiatives are aimed at resolving our nation’s STEM challenge by focusing on K-12 students, preparing future generations for successful career paths. However, there is a need to address this issue immediately, impacting today’s workforce, the “forgotten generation.” The two groups that can most rapidly effect change to the present STEM challenge in the workforce are university students as well as continuing-education professionals. While separate, both of these groups struggle with similar challenges — financial and time resources — requiring a solution that is accessible from both a monetary and a logistical perspective.
The solution for 2014 and beyond for best equipping the workforce is through online learning, not only eliminating restrictions on time and financial resources, but, when implemented properly, has been demonstrated to be just as effective as face-to-face instruction, if not more so.
Previously, the barrier for teaching STEM disciplines in an online environment was the inability of students to experience hands-on wet labs for the experimentation components of these courses. However, with the availability of wet labs delivered directly to students to supplement online courseware, this barrier no longer exists. Additionally, by eliminating the group format of face-to-face experiments, online STEM students, responsible for the entire experiment, walk away with a greater depth of knowledge.
Our healing economy isn’t translating into increased enrollment for higher education and institutions still battle for financial and personnel resources. These institutions must find new methods of generating revenue outside the traditional pathways. In addition, schools have very finite limitations on financial and physical resources to provide students. For example, a university’s nursing program may have the capacity to accept 50 face-to-face students, but have 2,500 applicants. By delivering the first two years of prerequisite STEM courses in an online setting, the university may expand the pool of students for acceptance thereby increasing tuition revenues without tying up personnel or facility resources.
To that end, online delivery of STEM courses also impacts global scalability by overcoming geographical barriers to face-to-face education, further benefiting U.S. higher education institutions.
Today’s STEM workforce, while critical, is still in need of continuing education to keep up with the latest developments within the STEM fields. By incorporating an online delivery for STEM courseware, higher education institutions are far better equipped to partner with STEM industry organizations looking to support continuing education for employees with as little disruption to productivity as possible. Online delivery of STEM courses for continuing education addresses the crises of current workforce competency gaps that exist at the present time and also make available an improved and continuous method of managing talent resources to keep up with global technology advances.
With the classic barriers for acceptance no longer at issue, online delivery of STEM courses have become a viable, and in some cases, preferable, solution to solving our nation’s STEM challenge.