Online Education Isn’t Just a Modality — It’s a Movement.

Karen Costa
3 min readJan 6, 2022

Earlier this week I wrote about a troublesome uptick in anti-online rhetoric. Inside Higher Ed covered the topic today, citing Northeastern’s chancellor, who recently declared that in-person education is the “gold-standard.”

Having earned my CAGS at NEU in 2012 in a 95% online program, and in light of the fact that NEU offers a ton of online learning (for huge profits of course), I was initially left scratching my head at this quote.

It gets curiouser and curiouser around here, doesn’t it?

But then I remembered, this isn’t about modalities at all. How quaint it would be if we were all actually debating pedagogy. As if.

It’s about a movement.

Want to know the very first tip, priority number one, in my book about excellence in online teaching, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Videos?

Tip #1: Be Part of a Movement.

I wrote about the online students I’ve worked with over the past fifteen years, students like new moms and long-haul truck drivers and military service members stationed abroad, all whom would not have been able to pursue higher education without access to online learning.

“When done well,” I wrote, “online teaching and learning have the power to do things that traditional learning cannot do. Instead of seeing online courses as a second-best option when land-based courses aren’t feasible or accessible, what if we became curious about how online education could be even better or could do something new, something special that could fuel a twenty-first century learning experience?”

Sadly, too many education leaders, K-16, are choosing rigidity over curiosity. Like many of my fellow online educators, I’ve been watching this play out with a combination of frustration and incredulity. “How can they be so clueless?” I find myself asking.

Then I remember. They are anything but.

This debate is not about ignorance of the affordances online education. Quite the opposite. Education leaders whose desire is to maintain the status quo see and know the democratizing power of online teaching and learning, power not only for students but for faculty and staff.

This is about power and control.

The next time you read a quote from an education leader declaring that online learning is second-best, in your head, I want you to hear this instead:

“Online learning provides access and opportunity. It is a tool to decolonize and disrupt power structures in higher education and society. And for that reason, I am terrified of its power.”

It’s so important to name what’s going on so that we can do something about it. Recognizing that this is about protecting the status quo doesn’t necessarily make it easier to see these attacks on our work, but my hope is that it continues to fuel our fires to fight for our students, faculty, and staff who deserve access to and success in quality online education, now and in the future.



Karen Costa

I write about higher education. Here for my work through 100 Faculty, LLC, supporting faculty, staff, and student success.