Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Online Education Essay

Online Education Essay

Online education presents itself in different ways. This includes distance learning, computer-based learning, distributed learning, and lifelong learning (Volery and Lord, 2000). Although these methods vary slightly, they hold one common denominator, which is unfavorable misconception. While there are misconceptions about many aspects, such as the credibility of online universities and their learning potential, there are many indicators that attending online courses as well as in class courses are equally effective forms of educating oneself.

An experiment conducted by Nova Southeastern University, examining students enrolling in similar courses with the same professors with the only difference being an online versus in-class setting, examined this issue. The resulting posttest score average for online and in-class students were 77.80 and 77.58, respectively, on a 100 point scale, a minimal difference in favor of online studies (Schulman, & Sims, 1999). Research studies similar to this one have proved that online learning that borrows from distance, computer based, and distributed learning is a viable option for anyone wishing to pursue post-secondary education. However, one should be properly informed about the nature of online education before considering pursuing it. This paper will outline the reasons one may want to choose online education, the key factors to a successful and effective online education, and the advantages of choosing online education.

Choosing a university can be a difficult decision in one’s development in one’s life and choosing an online university is not any easier. There are many considerations such as the subject of interest, credibility of the university, and the financial requirements and capability of the individual that must be evaluated. In recent years there has been a visible skyrocketed usage of personal and portable computerized systems. The economic growth of the Internet, IT, and social networking along with the globalization of the world market has encouraged many universities and students alike to pursue online education. This has created more opportunities and simultaneously tighter competition for students, with some students even deciding to take on multiple workloads simultaneously.

Whether one is focusing on his career while maintaining online education or simultaneously enrolled in a traditional university-campus setting and taking additional online courses, there are many reasons to choose online education. Volery and Lord place the reasons for the growth of online education into four major categories; expanding access, alleviating capacity constraints, capitalizing on emerging market opportunities, and serving as a catalyst for institutional transformation (2000). Meeting a state’s educational needs in under-populated areas can be more costly in a traditional educational setting, the growth of the amount of people wishing to study, lifelong learning has created new student segments such as executives and working adults. The movement away from public funding for institutions requires these institutions to search for new streams of revenues (Volery and Lord, 2000).

When students consider online education, there are critical factors that weigh in on the effectiveness of the delivery of the actual information. The availability of tools such as a course conferencing system, electronic mail, slides, and virtual libraries provide students with various methods to intake information. However, there are certain and important factors which should be evaluated when determining the quality or effectiveness of an online education, which all stem from the categories of technology, instructor characteristics, and student characteristics. The factors to be considered include the ease of access and navigation (Can they log in at anytime of day?), the interface (Is it comprehensive and appealing?), interaction (Is there sufficient capability for communication between the teacher and the student?), attitudes towards students (What is the instructor’s personal approach?), instructor technical competence, and classroom interaction (Volery and Lord, 2000). 

Although the in-class format does hold it’s unique features that may be irreplaceable to some people, learning in an online setting provides students with features that otherwise would not be available in a traditional environment. This is why it is undeniable that online learning holds many advantages over traditional education. Although it is true that some universities, such as Duke, charge a premium for their online programs as opposed to their in-class counterparts, students who want to obtain their diploma online incur far less costs than those who have to actually attend an institution (Schulman, & Sims, 1999). Online students are not burdened with dormitory costs unlike students who live on residence and they do not require finances for transportation unlike those who study abroad.

Although it does not necessarily guarantee an effective form of education, online studies also compare favorably with traditional methods of education in regards to standardized test scores. Two separate studies, one conducted by the University of Michigan and the other by the University Pheonix concluded that computer-based learning yields higher scores than traditional education, with the latter study showcasing a 5-10% increase of scores among graduates (Schulman, & Sims, 1999) .

While a traditional learning environment may feel more personal at an elementary and even high-school level, post-secondary institutions often offer very large classes. Some students may perceive this as intimidating and feel that it is harder to approach a professor in non-“student-centered” environment (Kohn, 2003). These students may find it easier to communicate with their colleagues as well as with their professors through an email/ intranet system.Furthermore, in an attempt to qualify the term well educated, Kohn concludes that quizzes and test scores are an ineffective way to measure the quality of education; rather that in-depth projects and portfolios of assignments are better indicators of one’s ability to learn (2003). Because online education relies heavily on self-administered exercises, it is more practical for instructors to pursue these forms of instruction and evaluation.

As long as students understand the reasons they would like to pursue would like to attend an online university, are able to evaluate the program based on technology, instructor characteristics, and student characteristics, and are aware of the advantages that online education hold over other forms of education, they will be able to complete fulfilling and rewarding study programs online. In fact, one who pursues an online education shows a disposition to educate him or herself and isn’t that what being well educated is really all about? Not just the ability to raise and answer important questions, but to be self-motivated to do so (Kohn, 2003).
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