In earlier generations, getting an education meant going to class, sitting in a classroom or lecture hall listening to the professor, and participating in discussions. Now, something as simple as raising your hand in class, or asking your neighbor to borrow a pen could become obsolete. In the growing phenomena of online education, thousands of students are logging into class, and instead of going to a physical building, they participate from the comfort of their home or local coffee shop.
Many students and educators praise online courses for their flexibility and their unique way of engaging with students. However, some question the quality of education a student can receive from only interacting with his/her professor and classmates virtually.
Dr. Jennifer Friend tells us that online courses have transformed the way we learn by making the educational experience more individualized and more student-centered. The online component can take many forms in education. Classes can be offered in an exclusively online format in which students connect to the lectures, discussion boards, and assignments entirely online from their home or work. In hybrid courses, students spend part of their time on campus for the face-to-face portion of the class, and the other part of the course online. Also, some classes rely mainly on traditional lectures with additional resources and forums online.
With new online courses, educators can individualize their teaching style because they can see which students answer questions correctly and which students need help. Also educators are able to record and edit lectures to make them more concise and accurate before posting them online, whereas a professor could get off-topic or misspeak during a live lecture. By having students watch lectures before class, teachers are then able to spend more time working examples and case studies instead of teaching content.
Yet, no online format can replicate the social interaction among students and between educators and their students. Many of the enriching experiences of being "on-campus" such as participating in a club, singing in the choir, attending social events, or chatting in the common area are lacking in a completely online format.
Nonetheless, the phenomena of online education is growing and more and more students are taking some, if not all, of their courses online. Online education is not just for higher education anymore, but for home schooling and high schools as well. Some states, such as Florida, Alabama, Michigan, and Idaho require students to take at least one online course before graduating high school. Despite online course growth, educators affirm that common institutions will not become obsolete. They will merely need to incorporate technologies more robustly into their programs.
- Dr. Jennifer Friend, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations at School of Education at UMKC
- Melissa Loble, Associate Dean of Distance Learning at UCI
- David Ta, Instructional Designer at UMKC