As of November 2008, there were 62 ALA-accredited MLS graduate programs offered by 57 U.S. and Canadian institutions of higher education; 50 of these programs either teach their curricula entirely online (see box) or offer a blend of face-to-face and online courses.
A study released this spring by the U.S. Department of Education jibes well with this trend in LIS education. According to a May USDOE report titled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, online learning has definite advantages for students over face-to-face instruction. The DOE summary concludes that “instruction conducted wholly online was more effective in improving student achievement than the purely face-
“This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a June 26 statement, urging educators to consider the study’s findings.
The increase in the number of adults earning degrees online is nothing short of remarkable, according to a 2008 Sloan Consortium report. Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 stated that approximately 3.94 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2007 term—an increase of nearly 13% over the number of online students Sloan-C documented for 2006. Moreover, the 12.9% rise in online enrollment far exceeds the 1.2% increase in the student population registered for higher education, according to Sloan-C.
Interest in the MLS degree will no doubt continue, as employment opportunities in the library and information science job sector are projected to experience positive growth in coming years, according to data reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (sector analyses for 2006 to 2016), United States Bureau of Labor Occupational Employment Statistics, and reports from the American Library Association.
Eduventures, a higher-education research and consulting firm, estimated in a January report prepared for Drexel University Online that more than 21,400 graduate students will be enrolled in a fully or blended online MLS program in 2009, and that nearly 7,300 MLS degrees will be awarded this year. Eduventures projects a 3% annual growth in MLS enrollment between now and 2011.
Among those newly minted MLS holders who got their education online is the amazing Heidi Grant, who graduated from Drexel in 2005. Grant underwent chemotherapy for an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while continuing to work towards her master’s degree in library and information science.
“My family encouraged me to finish, so by completing coursework from my hospital bed, I was able to plug away and get it done,” Grant recalls. In addition to her health and coursework demands, Grant had just gone through a divorce. “The fact that there were no set class times made all the difference. Of course there were papers and deadlines, but I had the freedom to sit at the computer at 2 a.m. and get work done.”
Today, Grant is cancer-free and credits Drexel’s online learning program with helping her to achieve her master’s degree and secure a better career. “It was all very stressful; however, I knew the secret to a better life for me and my children rested on the completion of my degree.”
Ann Coster, a classmate of Grant’s, earned her MLS degree in 2008 while residing in Cairo, Egypt. The biggest challenge for Coster was overcoming the fear that she could not work full-time while taking online classes. However, her fear turned out to be unfounded. “I found my classes to be relevant and helpful in my day-to-day work responsibilities,” Coster said. “Life becomes much more manageable when your coursework complements your job, and you complete assignments around your daily schedule.”
In The Perfect Online Course: Best Practices for Designing and Teaching (Information Age Publishing, 2009), editors Anymir Orellana, Terry Hudgins, and Michael Simonson highlight the existing body of literature related to best practices and guidelines for designing online education and teaching. A key component emphasized in the book, and one of the basic pedagogical principles of teaching within an online community, is student engagement.
Clearly, there are a host of different strategies (asynchronous, synchronous), utilizing a variety of technologies (wikis, multiuser virtual environments, Second Life, etc.) currently being used by online instructors for engaging online learners.