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Editorial: Online learning and college

Adapting to the changing needs of its students: One could say that this has been a hallmark of Greenfield Community College under the leadership of its president, Robert Pura.

Not surprisingly, then, GCC is examining — and implementing — a greater role for online learning. After all, technological advances have made such distant learning better, more accessible and affordable for many. Whether it’s taking just a couple of courses or using this approach to get a degree, college online programs have grown in numbers and scope.

Yet, as with other aspects of the Internet and the promise it holds, an online college has its limits.

GCC’s Pura knows that and that is why it’s good to hear him say that the school is taking a measured approach in expanding its online academic presence, no matter what the pressures.

And clearly there are demands, as GCC and other institutes of higher learning move forward with their mission of providing education to a new generation. Included in the list are the need to prepare students — both traditional and non-traditional — for the rapid changes in the types of jobs available, as well as reining in ever-increasing costs when it comes to a college education.

Just as was the case during earlier discussions about overhauling the mission of community colleges in Massachusetts to be more of a conduit for work-force development, there will be those who see online education as not just a component of higher education but some kind of cure-all for the economic ailments that colleges and their students can find themselves in — often at the expense of what we’ll call the brick-and-mortar approach.

Pura doesn’t want expansion of GCC’s online offerings to hurt its liberal arts offerings, especially for those students looking to transfer to four-year colleges, in the pursuit of what he calls “chasing numbers for short-term results.”

We agree, and would add that a college education should not be seen as just an exercise in accumulating facts and learning procedures. That’s looking post-high school education through too narrow a lens. College should not only be about learning, but also about how to use one’s brain in a rational, reasoned manner.

We’d also argue that for young men and women coming out of high school, college can provide lessons in becoming an independent adult and maturing socially by coming into contact with students of different backgrounds and interests.

That’s certainly not going to happen if your college experience/education is spent sitting in from of a computer.

Again, online courses and degree programs work for some people and should be included as part of the mix. But so should be all of the other traditional components we associated with a college education.

The goal is to produce well-rounded educated adults, as well as providing new members of the American workforce.

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