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Virtual Education

What is Online Learning?

Online learning is education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “elearning” among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning” – the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom. Distance learning has a long history and there are several types available today, including:

  • Correspondence Courses: conducted through regular mail with little interaction.
  • Telecourses: where content is delivered via radio or television broadcast.
  • CD-ROM Courses: where the student interacts with static computer content.
  • Online Learning: Internet-based courses offered synchronously and/or asynchronously.
  • Mobile Learning: by means of devices such as cellular phones, PDAs and digital audio players (iPods, MP3 players).

 

By far the most popular approach today is online learning. According to the Sloan Consortium, online enrollments continue to grow at rates faster than for the broader student population and institutes of higher education expect the rate of growth to continue increasing. Some of the key findings:

  • Over 1.9 million students were studying online in the fall of 2003.
  • Schools expect the number of online students to grow to over 2.6 million by the fall of 2004.
  • Schools expect online enrollment growth to accelerate — the expected average growth rate for online students for 2004 is 24.8%, up from 19.8% in 2003.
  • The majority of all schools (53.6%) agree that online education is critical to their long-term strategy.
    A majority of academic leaders believe that online learning quality is already equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction. (The “no significant difference” phenomenon.)

Benefits of Online Teaching and Learning
Why online distance learning and why now? Online distance learning meets the needs of an ever-growing population of students who cannot or prefer not to participate in traditional classroom settings. These learners include those unable to attend traditional classes, who cannot find a particular class at their chosen institution, who live in remote locations, who work full-time and can only study at or after work, and those who simply prefer to learn independently. The minimum requirement for students to participate in an online course is access to a computer, the Internet, and the motivation to succeed in a non-traditional classroom. Online courses provide an excellent method of course delivery unbound by time or location allowing for accessibility to instruction at anytime from anywhere. Learners find the online environment a convenient way to fit education into their busy lives. The ability to access a course from any computer with Internet access, 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a tremendous incentive for many of today’s students. Some of the main advantages of online learning include:

Convenience: 24/7 access from any online computer; accommodates busy schedules; no commuting, no searching for parking.

Enhanced Learning: Research shows increased depth of understanding and retention of course content; more meaningful discussions; emphasis on writing skills, technology skills, and life skills like time management, independence, and self-discipline.

Leveling of the Playing Field: Students can take more time to think and reflect before communicating; shy students tend to thrive online; anonymity of the online environment.

Interaction: Increased student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction and discussion; a more student-centered learning environment; less passive listening and more active learning; a greater sense of connectedness, synergy.

Innovative Teaching: Student-centered approaches; increased variety and creativity of learning activities; address different learning styles; changes and improvements can translate to on-ground courses as well

Improved Administration: Time to examine student work more thoroughly; ability to document and record online interactions; ability to manage grading online.

Savings: Accommodate more students; increased student satisfaction = higher retention and fewer repeats.

Maximize Physical Resources: Lessen demand on limited campus infrastructure; decrease congestion on campus and parking lots.

Outreach: Give students options; reach new student markets; appeal to current students thus increasing enrollments.