The Popularity of Online Classes
With over 70% of Americans online and broadband usage growing daily, technological advances are pushing the boundaries of how we think about learning and how students are succeeding in their classes. Specifically, technology is fueling the popularity of online education; 4 million students are currently enrolled in online classes, and 30% more students are expected to enroll next year.
How Online Classes Work
As a student in an online class, you will login to a central Web site that serves as an "information hub." This site will have announcements, assignments, notes and slides, readings, and media like videos, pictures, and graphs. You can post comments on message boards and ask your professor questions during "office hours" in an online chat. You can even access the school's library online to download articles and electronic books.
Bringing Students Together
Technological advances are bringing students from around the world together to study. With the Internet, if you live in a rural area with no local university, you can still access agricultural programs across the country. You can study at overseas universities from your own home. This is particularly valuable to students overseas unable to obtain visas to study in the US. Since September 11, 2001, overseas inquiries about online learning have increased by 40%.
The students in your online classes are also likely to represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Since online classes offer students the flexibility to care for a family, work a day job, or travel, your peers can bring an array of backgrounds and perspectives to the virtual classroom.
Better Use of Media
With over 57 million broadband subscribers in the US alone and over 16% of the developed world using high-speed connections, online classes are able to use media in a whole new way. Online instructors can post videos of lectures, experiments, and news clips for you to watch. You might be assigned to listen to a radio program for homework, take an electronic test that is scored immediately, or play a video game that reviews class concepts.
With the explosion of voice technology, like Skype, you can talk directly to your professor. Some classes even encourage teachers and students to participate in real-time videoconferencing--a trend that is likely to continue as more students have access to broadband connections.
Message Boards and Online Chats
Message boards are everywhere on the Internet today, and even newspapers allow you to comment on articles. This technology is perfect for online classes, where message boards give you the time to think and plan your responses. It is easier to return to a previous comment and "remember" what's been said and what you've said. Without a time limit, the discussion is not cut off too soon, and the thread can be easily picked up at later times.
Catering to Different Learning Needs
Online learning also accommodates a far more diverse set of learning needs. Online education allows you to keep your day job, avoid room and board, and save on transportation. Course material is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can read and re-read lectures, discussions, explanations, and comments. In a traditional lecture, if you are distracted, tired, or bored, you will miss important information, but in online courses, you can study when it is best for you and find the information again if you felt like you forgot something important.
Technological advances are bringing people together from around the world and in different stages in their lives to learn. Technology is improving the resources available for you to study, and driving the success of online education revolution.
Alayna Buckner graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Public Policy and Philosophy and now lives and works in Washington DC.