Just as the Internet transformed learning, online learning is transforming higher education. In the last 20 years, distance learning and online degree programs have gained a firm foothold in traditional universities across the globe – creating wider access and opportunities for students, new markets for subject material, and expanded revenue opportunities for academic institutions. By weaving online learning into every element of programs and curricula, universities are strengthening collaboration among students and faculty through interactive technology and increasing the reach, scope, and diversity of the student and faculty community.
According to the infographic “How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Learn,” posted on The Atlantic website (August 18, 2011), online learning is growing at a rate 14 times that of traditional postsecondary education; by 2014, 81% of postsecondary students will take some or all of their classes online; by 2020, it is projected that almost all college courses will involve blended learning (online with limited face-to-face).
In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education (“The Digital Revolution and Higher Education,” August 28, 2011), of the 1,055 college and university presidents interviewed, 77% reported that their institution offers courses where the instruction takes place exclusively online. The study also reports that among college graduates who have taken a class online, 15% have earned a degree entirely online.
There are many reasons why online programs are rapidly becoming a popular form of distance learning in higher education today. Online courses provide an excellent method of course delivery unbound by time or location allowing for accessibility to instruction at anytime from anywhere. Adult learners in particular, find the online environment a convenient way to fit education into their busy lives. The ability to access a course from a home computer via the Internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a tremendous incentive for this group to reach their academic and career goals.
The online format allows for a high level of dynamic interaction between the instructor (facilitator) and students and among the students themselves. Gone are the antiquated modular lessons for individual completion. Today’s online environment is a collaborative effort between facilitator and student. Resources and ideas are shared, and continuous synergy is generated through the learning process as each individual contributes to the course discussions and comments on the work of others. The collegiality that exists in the virtual classroom is one of the most unique and vital traits that the online learning format posses.
The online environment offers educators a new paradigm in which dynamic courses of the highest quality can be developed. The education community is already adopting new technologies which will work together to result in more effective learning solutions, including game-based learning, learning analytics, cloud computing, personalized learning environments, and open content.
Online learning is changing the way colleges and universities do business, while at the same time the way students and faculty live, learn, teach, and work. As we move into the next decade, technology will continue to present opportunities to challenge and transform our institutions of higher learning.
Article by C.J. Hatcher, The Washington Examiner, Education Section, September 21, 2011