What is Online Learning?

Many prospective graduate students have probably heard about the growing availability of online courses, but may wonder; what exactly is online learning? Online learning is designed to be a convenient, flexible and individualized alternative educational pathway for individuals interested in earning an accredited college degree. Online learning requires the use of electronic media, information and communication technologies. Lectures and seminars are transmitted via video tapes, audio tapes and streaming videos of lectures. Students enrolled in online degree programs are required to complete assignments, take online tests and quizzes, participate in group discussions and any other activity designated by the professor. Most online courses have weekly assignments and deadlines as well as long-term projects or papers. The increased accessibility and interest of online learning has enhanced its entire design making online education just as effective, interactive, collaborative, and rewarding as a traditional classroom setting.

Concept of Online Distance Learning

Although online learning did not become popular or easily accessible until the late 1900’s, the concept of distance learning has been present since the early 1700’s. Over this time period it has evolved from simple lessons sent by mail, to entire bachelors and graduate degrees completed online with the same accreditation as traditional degrees. In the 1930’s the use of radio transmissions of courses was tried but failed. Shortly after, television instruction was explored in the 1950’s by Gayle Childs. His findings concluded there was little difference in performance between students who were taught by television in a traditional classroom setting and those who studied via correspondence and television. The argument remained, the classroom teacher was irreplaceable.

The greatest contributor to the maturation and popularity of online learning was the development of personal computer and widespread internet accessibility. The correlation between the growth and evolution of online education and technology go hand-in-hand.

How Does Online Learning Work?

The typical graduate student has to juggle more than just school. There are numerous appealing features of online distance learning for graduate students: Working from the comfort of home, setting a comfortable pace and choosing when to study are just a few advantages. Instead of searching for a babysitter, leaving work early, or travelling to campus for a seminar; listening to lectures, completing assignments and participating in class discussions, may be able to be completed at a the student’s convenience. Although some may fear the lack of face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers, there is a strong sense of community and support created by the use of e-mails, chat rooms, teleconferences and forums allowing teachers and students to exchange “live” thoughts, questions, and information. Online distance learning programs may even make communication more open and fluid than in a traditional graduate course setting.

Modern technology enables the classroom to be at your fingertips whenever it works best for you. Online learning is now considered as good as or better than campus based courses by chief academic officers 77% to 23%, with a steady increase in favor of online learning from 2003-2012.

With convenience being one of the major differences and advantages of an online education, the lower cost compared to traditional college courses is runner-up. Traditional education and online distance learning both have a place in beneficial education and providing a means to a better career and future for the individual. The important thing to remember is to choose the educational path which is best suited for you to enhance your career.

Make the Most of Online Learning

If you do decide to pursue your education online, there are several things to consider when picking an online learning program. First is reputation. There is ample information on the internet to help you research online learning programs to find a program with a good reputation. While investigating different online programs, you will also want to confirm the schools are accredited online colleges. This will guarantee a set of protocols are in place to ensure the curriculum and overall organization of the school is effective and continuously improves student performance.

Other considerations to keep in mind when selecting on an online learning program are your personal learning style, schedule and technological abilities/resources. Online learning can use either synchronous teaching; “live” communication and participation such as chat rooms and streamed lessons, or asynchronous teaching; such as responding to emails, watching previously recorded lessons, and responding to a blackboard discussion on your own time. Some online graduate programs require some on-campus classes, as well as internships you may be responsible for setting up independently. If you are not a “high-tech” person, make sure the school has a strong and convenient tech support.

Dangers of Procrastination

Although convenience is one of the biggest advantages of online learning programs, it may be the most difficult characteristic to manage. Managing your time and working effectively is vital for success. It is easy to procrastinate course work when you are not held accountable multiple times a week, but staying on top of assignments, organized, and motivated are absolutely necessary to succeed in an online course. Thoroughly looking through the syllabus, creating a calendar of all assignments, and asking the professor any questions early will help you stay current, even ahead of assignments and due dates for discussion board posts, projects, reading assignments and assessments. Another tip for online learners would be to have a consistent place to work that is organized and clutter free.

A big mistake a lot of new online learners make is underestimating the difficulty of online courses. Most have the same requirements as their on campus version, some course may require students to complete additional assignments such as participation in chats, discussion boards, and responding to fellow students’ posts. Some discussions may be for the purpose of checking in, but others may require research or significant preparation time. So when beginning an online distance learning course, make sure to take the time to research course requirements, professor reviews, technological requirements, and if you have the time necessary to successfully complete the course.

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