We live at a wondrous time. As technology spreads, connectivity does so in accordance as well. Stable Wi-Fi hotspots, broadband and fiber-optic connections have made it much easier to browse the world wide web at own leisure and learn a thing a two in the process.
The Internet is the biggest source of information, readily available to everyone. A recent surge in the popularity of online courses paints an intriguing picture for the future of Education as a whole. There are countless benefits to online courses, although there are significant difficulties the idea still needs to overcome. Many challenges remain before distance Learning can enter a period of maturity. The move away from personal tuition will be lengthy, but exciting.
What is an online course and how does it differ from a traditional one?
An online course delivers most of its educational content via the web, unsurprisingly. The proportion doesn't entirely have to be a flat 100%; three-quarters is usually enough to quantify a course as an online one.
There are three other types of courses — traditional (no online delivery), web optimized/enhanced (roughly a quarter of content is delivered via the internet) and a hybrid (mixed approach, falls between web-optimized and fully online regarding the proportion of its delivery). Percentages may vary, but the main idea still stands, the bulk of an online course is delivered directly to the student without any delay or overhead with the help of the internet.
An online course is a very directed learning experience, designed to be accessed at any time, any place.
The Current State of Online Learning & MOOCs
With the advent of MOOC (massive online open courses) like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and edX (the list goes on) practically any person around the globe can enjoy learning without transportation problems and without having to deal with crowds of other students. While online course integration may not be that widespread, many educational institutions offer their customized MOOC courses. It has become a necessity.
There is another side to online learning - personal education, the non-credit variety. A set of skills or knowledge relevant to your overall development as a person. There are numerous ways to self-improve this way; valuable materials can be easily found on the web— literature, audio books, educational videos and so on.
Getting some assignment help online perfectly serves this purpose as well.
What are MOOC Good For?
Even though the importance of face-to-face tuition can be argued limitlessly, the brick and mortar aspect of educational institutions has one significant flaw — only a set amount of students can be in the classroom at any given time. MOOC are free from that burden, and enrollment has potentially no limit.
Even though employers still prefer applicants with traditional diplomas, that can change in the foreseeable future. The absence of online training in an applicant can become a warning sign. One that tells the employer more about their potential employee - that they are either not interested or incapable of self-improvement.
The biggest draw online courses currently have is that you are free to pursue new knowledge from the comfort of your chair. And since learning is no longer defined by place or time of day, there are practically no boundaries for international students.
Many marketable skills get taught online, and when it comes to the IT segment, online courses are the most suitable method of learning.
Why? It has nothing to do with trendiness; it's the sheer convenience, lowered costs and ease of access. You also get access to the best professors all over the world, another driving feature.
Some educational institutions already create courses and make them into long-term programs. But traditional tuition in colleges and universities still retains a significant share of the educational market, but it is possible to get an online degree for a difficult course, like engineering.
Some institutions adapt faster and go a bit further, like the University of Phoenix and MIT CourseWare. For-credit online colleges that allow students to get a degree. Isn't that something?
What Does the Future Hold?
Plenty. Online courses already provide an additional revenue stream for the institutions offering them, and in time, methods of delivery will only improve.
Even in its current state, online education can be thought off as a more engaging learning method.
More robust, interactive way of education will slowly phase the older, archaic one.
The process has already started. Getting credit for online courses is possible. In time, online classes may even directly compete with university degrees.
Technology and Learning
Technology is rapidly developing. New and improved electronics appear on a constant basis - OLED monitors, virtual reality headsets (like Vive and Oculus Rift), and improvements to base capabilities of CPUs and GPUs will all allow to create a virtual environment that's as close to the real classroom as it can get. Technology and humanity will inevitably become more intimate in the following years.
But just how effective can it get?
If augmented reality, lectures, and interactivity get mixed in a smart way — it will be the most comprehensive way gain new knowledge.
There will be no need for professors always to repeat themselves and their lectures. The main brunt of the material can be explained by a computer presentation, with only the hardest examples being described by the professor.
A specific example would be intellectual work — like programming, data entry and analysis and some others. They can be easily taught by a computer, free of any human interaction.
But some specializations require tons of practice (medicine), and distance education can't accommodate that. At least not yet. We can only imagine how efficient and accessible these online techniques can get.
Once those difficulties are ironed out, students will be allowed to graduate faster and pay less for their degrees. But it should be noted that the complete transition to online learning will not be here for a long time. Decades, even. In the coming years, though, there will be a definite shift into hybridization of education. The process has begun — lectures and audio-visual materials can be perused by students at home, while practice and lab work is usually performed at the school/college/university.
But you can never fully replace the human factor — a teacher, a professor, a guidance figure.
Concerns and Challenges
The main hurdle online learning currently experiences is the perceived lack of quality control, as traditional academics like to say. The idea does have merit since teacher-student interaction is much less pronounced and individual.
The teacher (professor) acts as an assurance to the quality of student's education. There is also the concern of student motivation.
By taking an online course, students are left to their own devices and can be easily distracted by social media or a funny cat video.
These negative traits (laziness and procrastination) will always be a characteristic to many students.
Convenience is good, and all, but proper motivation and environment needs to be introduced to motivate the learning process.
It is improbable that digital credentials replace traditional ones in the coming years.
Does education end when we graduate?
Nobody ever said learning should be easy, or that it should end at graduation. Education is a tough venture; it calls us to improve continuously, diversify our skills, find new challenges and overcome them.
Online education is just the next step; education adapted to a new reality. One that encompasses previous experiences and breakthroughs.
No institution wants to lose students to other, more accessible options. Since the balance is already unsettled, the process of learning will adapt to a new business model. Bu all in due time. The demand for online courses will only increase, as will their quality. An exciting prospect, and one that's worth looking forward to.
Contributed by Robert Everett
Freelance writer currently based in Chicago, solving students career and university problems and having interest in marketing and business.
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Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/roberteverett82