A guest post by Joseph Baker
Some folks might assume that online education is a temporary popular phenomenon. They think in nostalgic ways about traditional college life, with 18-year-olds living in residence halls, biking to class and meeting, for the first time, people outside their hometowns. But in fact, for increasing numbers of people, online learning is clearly a better option. Furthermore, innovations from virtual education have become mainstream technologies in traditional courses and programs.
The Rise of Online Learning
Degrees from online universities in the past suffered from perception problems. The perception was that for a fee, very little coursework and no backing of formal accreditation agencies, you could go through an online program and get an undergraduate or graduate degree. Next, many online schools achieved the status of second-class programs. The degree was truly a reflection of meeting some sort of requirements and learning a curriculum, but it was seen as inferior to a degree from a traditional, on-campus program.
But the new standard of online learning combines academic excellence with flexibility. The quality of programs are assessed on the same merits as traditional programs, with core courses, performance on standardized subject tests and graduation rates being among the factors that are judged. And online classes are becoming more popular with a wider segment of the population. They may be degree programs in entirely online universities, or online programs within traditional schools. About one-quarter of college students take one or more online courses, and ten percent of students are in online programs.
In the old days, professors and students met in a particular location at a predetermined time so that the instructor could deliver the lecture in person. Students took furiously took notes and prayed that they didn’t miss anything critical and that they’d be able to read their own scrawl later. That was how it had always been done, and that was the assumption for the future.
That fundamental belief was shattered with innovations in online learning. In most online courses, lecture material is available at any time within a specified period, such as a week, and students can access it over the Internet to view and rewind it as many times as they want. Now, many traditional classes have online components. Professors often record and webcast lectures during class so that students can virtually attend the lecture live and review the archived lecture later.
Research and Collaboration
College used to require purchasing books at the bookstore, taking trips to the library for research, and extensively planning to meet classmates to work on group projects. In online courses, nearly all course materials are accessible online; for example, students can download e-textbooks, conduct research in academic journals via electronic databases and do group projects without ever meeting their colleagues in person. They can use web-based shared documents to simultaneously edit their work, and discuss their projects using video chats. Most college courses now operate this way, too. As online college classes continue to innovate and offer a more customized class experience to prospective students, their popularity is likely to grow proportionally.