When they first appeared, online learning models provided instruction without giving students the needed interaction with the tutor. Problems in earlier incarnations of online education related to non-user-friendly learning management systems (LMS), teacher quality, and lack of face-to-face time with the tutor. However, today, online learning has evolved so that most students receive both their undergraduate and professional/graduate degrees in a virtual classroom. Because of these advances, online education has seen a surge in popularity in the last few decades with students who desire to earn a degree while working part or full time and/or having a family.
Online education has revolutionized learning by making degrees more accessible to students from all social backgrounds. Typically, students who attend online institutions are working parents and adult students returning to school. Online education, up to this point, has focused on two major degree programs within these groups. The first type of class offered is the for-credit courses where students at any stage in life would complete coursework toward a degree, for example Maryville's online master degree programs. The curriculum for these classes is identical to what is found in the traditional college or university classroom. The only difference is the location for the class is a virtual one.
Another category of coursework completed online would be for professional certificate or credentialing programs. These programs are targeted to those who are working in a particular profession, for example education, and need to become credentialed to continue their employment. Because much of the work is submitted online from any location, both models have made college more accessible for people who cannot earn their degree in the traditional classroom.
Online education is a popular alternative for both students and those working in higher education. For students, the benefits are obvious. The online education model works well for them because it allows them the flexibility to take courses toward a degree at their convenience as compared to the traditional learning environment where students are forced to fit their plan into that of the institution’s schedule.
Additionally, today’s programs have evolved to the point where many LMSs allow for instant chat, so professors can hold class meetings and have office hours online if they so desire, eliminating interaction problems between students and their teacher. For college and universities, online education has tackled a few of the major problems administrators at traditional universities face. In the traditional university model, when general education classes are full, first-year students have to wait the following semester to enroll in a course. This, in turn, prevents them from taking courses in a timely manner and thus delaying graduation. Presently, online education allows institutions the opportunity to give more course offerings, in addition to providing students with a world-class education, as educators come from all around the world.
The reason that online education has done so well is because technology makes it possible for students to access their coursework from anywhere. Another of the major advances in online education is the development of LMSs. These systems have made learning online user friendly by creating a course shell that allows teachers the ability to:
- Give assessments
- Organize grade and attendance records
- Provide students with links to class resources on the internet
- Alert students of assignment due dates
- Provide access to lecture notes, practice tests, and other course material
- Provide a drop box to submit assignments, creating a paperless classroom
- Return graded assignments with instructor feedback
- Provide a contact point for students and teachers
For students, online education allows them access to their course from anywhere, as long as they have a reliable Internet connection.
Completing any degree program takes discipline and motivation. Once a student enrolls in a program, online or on-site, the student has committed him/herself to hours of study. Online education, in many ways, has made the dream of getting a college education a reality for many students who could not attend for financial or other issues. For busy parents trying to make ends meet, online education has made it possible for them to earn a degree while earning a living wage. For busy adult learners returning to school, online education provides students needing to earn a degree for career advancement the opportunity.
The main benefit of online education is the flexibility in scheduling that it provides to learners, making it a formidable force in shaping education in the future.