The growth of the Internet has had an effect on many different aspects of our lives. It’s changed the way we communicate, it’s changed the way we consume music and video and it’s had perhaps the biggest impact on the way we do business since the industrial revolution. It has also brought new solutions and options when it comes to education. Fully online courses are gaining in popularity and around a third of all college students attending traditional institutions are also enrolled in at least one online course. Websites, videos, blogs, podcasts and other online media are also increasingly being used as teaching aids within those traditional establishments.
There are many reasons why students of all backgrounds and ages might choose to pursue online learning. It can be flexible and cost-effective and the outcomes can often be better than for traditional classroom learning.
When comparing online vs. traditional classes, a great many students have decided that the benefits of the former work for them. There are currently 6,700,000 students in the US enrolled in online courses at more than 275 accredited online universities. The format is perfectly suited for the teaching and learning of subjects like technology but any academic subject that can be taught in a traditional school can be taught online. The most popular online courses at bachelor’s degree level are currently psychology, business studies, elementary education, nursing and health administration, in that order. This isn’t too dissimilar from the traditional route, where the top choices are business studies, accounting, nursing, psychology and elementary education.
One of the single biggest draws for many is that it is so flexible. Online learning programs can frequently be tailored to the individual and this can be hugely important for people in all sorts of different situations and circumstances. If you are a parent with young children to look after and a hectic family life, for example, you might not have the option of physically attending a traditional school or college on a full- or even part-time basis. As most parents can tell you, having children is very trying (if equally rewarding) and a learning solution that can be worked around your family commitments can be incredibly valuable.
Parenthood isn’t the only thing to have a claim on people’s time of course. If you already have a job you might not have either the luxury or the inclination of being able to take what would amount to a very substantial amount of time away from work. Whether you’re looking to give your prospects a boost within an existing career in the tech sphere or elsewhere by gaining new qualifications and skills, or to switch your job and career entirely, online learning can fit around your current work commitments.
Some online courses allow you to study completely at your own pace. Others have a defined timescale and may be more structured, with online meetings, workshops and learning elements. But even within that structure, there is generally a lot more flexibility.
While some online courses take longer than their traditional counterparts, others take roughly the same time and it may also be possible to find an accelerated course in your chosen subject, allowing you to cram more learning into a shorter time.
Results and Learning Outcomes
There might still be a view in some quarters that online degrees are somehow less valid but this isn’t an opinion shared by the majority of educators. Nearly four-fifths (77%) of professional educators believe that online learning is just as good as, if not better than, traditional learning. Students who have experience online learning agree, with 70% reporting that online instruction is as good as or better than traditional teaching methods. More than a quarter (26%) of students actually claim to learn better online than in a classroom and the quality of online teaching is borne out by outcomes. On standardized tests, online learners scored at the 59th percentile on average, compared to the 50th percentile for traditional classroom learners.
Over in the UK, meanwhile, case studies on vocational City & Guilds courses have shown that e-learning can lead to improved scores on tests, certifications, and other evaluations and increase the number of learners who accomplish ‘mastery’ level. Perhaps more importantly for employers, online learning can also impart a greater ability to apply the new information or processes on the job and lead to a better long-term retention of information. Employers also recognize that qualifications from properly accredited online learning institutions are every bit as valid and valuable as those from traditional universities.
There are several reasons why online learning might be a better fit for you. Different people learn at different rates, with the slowest learners taking around five times longer than the fastest. The majority of learners at the lower end of the scale still have the potential to be successful if given enough time and attention. Online learning institutions tend to have very good ratios of faculty members to students and are generally better at offering tailored, bespoke programs and flexible courses in terms of the speed of learning.
The costs for online learning can vary quite widely depending on the institution and type of course offered but in general terms, e-learning courses are far less expensive than comparable courses in a traditional bricks and mortar school or university. This includes the costs of the delivery of the course itself but there are also other potential savings, such as the costs of campus accommodation or commuting and other travel costs. The fact that you can learn from home rather than having to travel into physical premises every day can also save a great deal of time, allowing you to maximize your learning. This can be extremely important if you are fitting it into a busy lifestyle.
Online learning isn’t the ideal format for everyone. Some students do thrive in the classroom but for a great many people, the tailored, flexible structures, cost-effective courses, and levels of one-on-one attention are providing an attractive and highly beneficial solution.