- Over 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2008 term, a 17 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.
- The 17 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.
- More than one in four college and university students now take at least one course online.
Are you surprised?
I definitely was. Having taught in traditional classrooms for the last 5 years, I had my doubts about online classes. I just couldn’t see how the internet could replicate a process that revolves around so much personal interaction. But seeing as how the internet revolutionized the media, print, and retail industries, I knew that the same would eventually happen to education. Now it seems, after more than a decade of study and experimentation, evidence is emerging showing that online education has surpassed traditional education in terms of effectiveness.
How and when did this all happen?
The three main changes that brought about these improvements happened in the fields of infrastructure, technology, and pedagogy.
- Infrastructure: The tech boom of the early 2000’s saw billions of dollars worth of investments in fiber optic cable networks that literally connected the world. These networks made access to broadband internet affordable and allowed high volumes of data to be streamed to any location in the world. This not only increased the reach of online classes, but also dramatically brought down their costs.
- Technology: The increase in bandwidth also allowed for new technologies that changed the way online content was consumed. A decade ago most websites and internet content was text-based. Youtube and other pioneers developed the technologies to stream high quality videos to viewers. It wasn’t long before educational companies adapted similar technologies to stream videos of live classes to students.
- Pedagogy: The lack of effectiveness of earlier online courses was due in part to a lack of knowledge of what worked and what didn’t. As educators experimented and developed new techniques and tools for teaching online, the effectiveness of online education quickly improved. Now teachers who teach online have a vast array of tools at their fingertips that would make any classroom teacher green with envy.
Instead of going over all the advantages of an online education, I will provide you a list of the top 10 advantages of online education, using Knewton as my example:
- Easy to use: There is no software and no installation. All you need is a web browser and you’re ready to learn.
- Take your class from ANYWHERE: Take your class from home, at the library, or even in your bathtub.
- Intuitive interface: Teacher, lecture slides, chat box, and quiz questions all on one screen. You always have the best seat in the house.
- Interactive syllabus: A syllabus with email and text alerts so you’ll always know what’s coming up.
- On demand lectures: All lessons are saved as videos that students can access at any time. Watch the classes live or on-demand, depending on your schedule.
- Live TAs: Live TAs answer individual questions and give assistance during the lesson. Worried about slowing down the rest of the class, or about asking a related question that might be over some students’ heads? Don’t. You can always chat privately with a TA – so don’t be shy!
- Automatic grading of assignments: Sick of waiting weeks to get your test or paper back, only to find it covered with illegible red scrawls? The Knewton adaptive learning engine automatically grades all assignments and presents students with immediate feedback and explanations. Feedback is tailored to each student’s performance to ensure you learn from your specific mistakes.
- Interactive content: All questions and concepts are interlinked like Wikipedia. You can learn exactly what you want, and then move on.
- Track your progress: Knewton’s adaptive learning system will automatically generate a profile for each student, which can be pulled up at the click of the mouse. It shows what you have done and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
- It’s green: Online classes use virtual classrooms and store all the content digitally. It saves both energy and trees.
Whether you are a High School student looking for classes not available at your school or an experienced professional looking to advance your career, online learning is becoming both a cheaper and an easier way of getting the education that you need. Sure, you still have to do your research on the best educational institution for your needs – but that’s always been the case.
Now, the obvious question remains: Will we eventually get to the point where courses are simply downloaded into your brain like in the Matrix?
We’re working on it.