Whether cost or distance, many students struggle to obtain post-secondary degrees at bricks and mortar schools and are turning increasingly to online programs; institutions such as Harvard and MIT, University of Michigan and Stanford, and even MBA online schools are now offering a wide array of lectures, certificates, courses and programs that are far less expensive than traditional schools, and sometimes even free. With increasingly interactive technology, the initial challenges to online schools: lack of interaction between and among teacher and students, collaboration and critical thinking, have all been remedied; the battle is over, and modern schools are now, at least in part, online schools.
Like it or not, online instruction has become increasingly popular. In 2010, more than 6 million students were taking online courses in the U.S., and enrollment doubled from 2007 to 2011. In fact, a recent survey found that 65% of college administrators agreed that “online learning is a vital piece of their institution’s long-term strategy.”
In order to address the criticism and meet student needs, online instruction has had to adopt cutting-edge, interactive technology. Lessons are delivered by video, students receive “real-time” feedback and testing is embedded throughout courses and programs. Students actively engage instructors and each other in a variety of ways including web-based laboratories and forums where students post questions and answers, and those are voted on with the most pertinent highlighted and prominently placed.
Additionally, hybrid programs, which substitute machine-guided instruction for much of the traditional “face time,” have been shown to be equally as effective in terms of retention as the traditional classroom and are now offered at a wide variety of engineering, education and MBA online schools.
Innovation continues with experiments such as the University of Illinois at Springfield’s massive open online course (MOOC) where over 2600 participants from dozens of countries participated and collaborated in a single course.
With concerns that higher education is experiencing a “bubble” like that of other recently over-valued markets (think housing), employers are increasingly accepting that education, skills and credentials obtained online, even if only a certificate program, are equally as valuable as from traditional universities and programs.
Costs of online education vary depending on the type of instruction sought. Some have adopted an “open teaching” policy where online classes are offered free of charge with the laudable goal of creating a community of learners and improving education for all. Others offer certificate programs where separate certification is given for each course passed, and with courses offered at a greatly reduced cost. Additionally, entire online programs are also offered for far less than traditional colleges.
Furthermore, tomorrow’s students will demand a flexible, digital education. The freshman class for 2012, born in 1994, likely does not recall a time before personal computers and access to the world at their fingertips in their homes. They expect to have nearly instant access to information and people, and will anticipate nothing less from their post-secondary education. The only way in which modern schools can meet this demand is through online schools.