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On-line Learning - Is It for You?

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There has been a shift in the way colleges and universities are delivering education to students. Colleges have vast technical capabilities that weren’t available a decade ago. To move forward, they must ask themselves how to educate students in this new world that we’re living in?

With more than 73% of adults in the U.S. using the Internet, colleges and universities are turning to Web-based instruction to better serve the needs of their students. Institutions must strive to maximize learning opportunities for the internet generation with lifestyles that involve frequent use of personal, mobile, and digital technologies.

Online lesson delivery also responds to higher education’s role in the emerging world economy. Current statistics show that more than 2.3 million students took an online course in fall 2004. This educational mode is growing more than 18 percent a year. It is obvious that online resources play an important role in the lives of students.

The past decade has seen online teaching and learning evolve from being experimental to being a legitimate component of higher education. It is difficult to find a college or university that does not offer some form of distance learning.

Today’s college students have grown up expecting everything to be available online. Universities have responded to these expectations by offering a variety of online options. Many are developing complete online programs. They are designed to meet both student demand and institutional goals. There is little debate whether online education is as good as face-to-face instruction. The goal of most universities is to provide a quality learning environment regardless of the delivery method.

The abundance of Internet resources creates easy access to information. The majority of students now rely on the internet as their primary portal to knowledge, opinion, social networking, and entertainment. Social networks create a sense of community among students when learning is a collaborative process. News on the web often links to corresponding blogs so that news acquisition becomes interactive and cooperative. Podcasts enable a truly mobile learning environment. Classes are not constrained physically or temporally. This proves that continuous engagement for students is not only a possibility but, in many instances, a functional reality. Many faculty members are able to energize and redefine themselves through online teaching. Students have access to learning resources that were not available in the past.

How do on-line courses work? Details vary from one school to another, but the basics are the same. In most on-line classes, students work independently. Course information is accessed via the internet and students can work at any time they prefer, day or night. Some on-line classes require you to “attend” class online at a specific time. Instead of listening to in-class lectures, students read material on-line or in textbooks. They usually submit work via e-mail. Deadlines usually apply for assignments and papers, but the student largely determines their own schedule.

On-line courses and programs offer many advantages. Some of these include:

  • On-line learning tends to be convenient and flexible. Students can take classes when they’re at home, working, or traveling abroad. Many people are able to attend classes while still taking care of their families and careers.
  • On-line learning gives a student options. If you want to take a class your school doesn’t offer, you can enroll in classes at colleges that may be hundreds of miles away.
  • On-line learning can strengthen other important skills you’ll need for overall success as a student. They provide the opportunity to improve technology and internet skills. By definition, these courses require extensive use of computers.
  • On-line courses teach students to be functionally literate. If you can’t communicate what you know or generate ideas using the tools of the workplace (often electronic and internet-based), you’re at a serious disadvantage.

Despite their obvious appeal, on-line courses may not be a good choice for everyone. On-line learning takes more self-motivation than courses delivered face-to-face. Working independently tends to isolate learners from faculty and other students. You are not able to tune in and react to clues such as body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. A feeling of isolation and lack of community may develop due to lack of human contact.

Before taking an on-line class, you must realize that on-line learning is seldom easier than traditional courses. Do not think there is less work because you do not have to physically attend a class. Sometimes on-line classes can actually be more work.

On-line courses require a dedicated approach, as well as some specific skills. To be a successful student in an on-line course, a learner should be self-motivated, independent, and hardworking. Basic computer skills and internet search skills are also important.

You must be able to meet deadlines. If you’re the type of person who needs a teacher to give you lots of reminders about deadlines, an on-line course may not be for you. Good language skills are also a must. On-line learners need strong English reading and writing skills because almost all communication in on-line courses is written.

With the right attitude and a willingness to tackle the necessary work, many students can succeed with this type of instruction. If you are in doubt, start slowly. Take one or two on-line classes to try it out.

Just like most things experienced in college, on-line learning may help you in your career. As workers find less time in their schedules for continuing education and professional development, many employers are turning to online programs as an alternative. A survey released by the American Society for Training and Development and Capella University found that 81% of respondents believe the role of online education will increase or stay the same in their company in the next two to three years. About 58% expect that role to increase. Only 2% anticipate a decrease.

Some companies are hiring chief education officers to coordinate professional development and continuing education for employees. Although not as widespread as online degrees, remote training is gaining popularity. It allows professional development to be accessed at different times. This means you don’t have to take people off the job to do it.

On-line learning is a contributing factor in a number of innovations in higher education. Students will continue to integrate their personal technologies into their educational and social lives. Creative faculty members will respond in innovative ways to keep students actively engaged in learning. Institutional support is the key to maintaining the quality of these efforts. The challenge for higher education is to stay ahead of the curve. Educational technology expands rapidly and can morph into educational forms that have not been anticipated. Although online learning has been a part of the educational landscape for only a few years, evidence suggests that it is rapidly becoming a major component of higher education.

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