Why Online Learning Works
With the arrival of the Digital Age and the advent of distance learning, taking college level courses over the Internet has become a real possibility for todayâ€™s students seeking a higher education. But is it worth it? Does it provide the kind of quality education that learners need in order to excel in the real world? Or are their drawbacks to distance learning that outweigh the pros? This speech will go over the benefits and advantages of learning online at the college level while addressing some of the potential disadvantages that might make some hesitant to pursue distance learning as a viable option.
Why Learning Online is Useful for Adults
Adults tend to have busy schedules, which makes it hard for them to find the time to get to a traditional college for classes while making time for everything else that they have going onâ€”whether it is work, family, community responsibilities, church obligations, etc. If an adult wants to earn a degree in order to justify asking for a promotion, or in order to learn new knowledge and skills that will allow him to be more useful to his organization, it is not going to be a simple task to carve three, six, nine or twelve hours out of his week to reach that goal. Considering that most classes at traditional colleges are only offered at specific times, the possibility of juggling so many duties while earning a degree is almost zero. The adult, therefore, is unlikely to pursue the goal of earning that degreeâ€”unless an alternative arises.
Distance learning is that alternative. It gives the learner the option of doing the class work at a time that is convenient for him. The person does not have to be in a classroom at a specific time of day in order to receive an attendance grade. He does not have to leave work during the day or neglect family time in order to get to campus. Instead, he can work in the course work via the Internet according to the times available in his own personal and professional schedule. Learning online offers a hugely convenient way for adults to obtain their college diploma without ever actually having to step foot on a campus.
How Online Learning Better Prepares Learners for Careers Outside School
As Anderson (2008) notes, online learning has evolved to the point today where it can be considered the new normal for a wide variety of adult learners. It is a no-nonsense approach to higher education because its focus is less on the â€œexperientialâ€ side of college life and more on the â€œlearningâ€ and â€œeducationâ€ side of college. Many college campuses across America are filled with fresh out of high school youths who are on their own for the first time in their lives and are seeking new, fresh experiences and are eager to enjoy the campus life and their newfound independence. Colleges cater as much to these types today as they do to learners who are there simply to hit the books, study, and become educated and skilled in the field they have selected to major in.
Online learning environments are much different, however. All the distractions of campus life fade away with online learning. The student can focus on what matters and can do it without facing any peer pressure or stigma for actually trying and wanting to learnâ€”as opposed to skipping studying to attend the next fraternity or sorority party. Online learning is oriented towards adults who want to improve themselves or prepare themselves to get ahead in their careers outside school. Online schools are more streamlined, more direct and more sophisticated than ever before. What with online learning portals, chat rooms, video lectures and video conferencing, online learning is basically like having a college all on oneâ€™s own laptop. The serious adult learner knows that when he logs in he is dedicating himself to getting ahead. The raw youth fresh out of high school traipsing around the college campus looking for some social activities to distract him or her from the library is not going to evince that same dedication. Online schools know who their audiences are and why they are there. Online learners are serious and motivated and so too are the schools that provide online education.
Critical Thinking and Soft Skills Learners Gain
Online learners often gain critical thinking and soft skills such as leadership skills, teamwork skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, flexibility and adaptability, an improved work ethic, and interpersonal skills. This comes about because online learning often requires students to engage with one another over the Internet, communicate effectively in order to complete assignments in which they respond to the ideas that their peers put forward regarding readings, and so on. Sendag and Odabasi (2009) showed that online learning can enhance critical thinking skills by getting people in an online learning group to discuss, analyze, communicate and facilitate the development of ideas and answers to problems put forward in the class. Yang, Newby and Bill (2005) showed that Socratic questioning can be used in distance learning courses to encourage the development of critical thinking as well. Online discussion forums have become staples in online learning and are often the places where the adult learner really gets to interact with others over the material being learned and begin to discover what he knows, how well he is at articulating that knowledge, and how he reacts when others disagree or have a different point of view.
The Other Side
Not everyone agrees that online learning is worth it, however. Some see it as a poor attempt to replace solid campus-based education with shoddy, over-the-Internet quick-learning that is really nothing more than the quickest, cheapest way to get a degree. They claim that no real learning actually transpires (Concannon, Flynn & Campbell, 2005). These arguments, though, are not based on fact or on evidence. They are based on opinions, limited perspectives, bias and inexperience.
The reality of the situation with respect to online learning is that technology has advanced to the point where people do not even have to be in an office anymore in order to do their jobs. They can work from home or they can work from halfway round the world. The Internet has made communication so much easier today. Education is just one more form of communication. Face-to-face, campus-based education is an old model that was developed prior to the arrival of the Digital Age. But just as Blockbuster went out of business when Netflix developed a new business model for getting movies to customersâ€”one that utilized the advantages of the Internetâ€”colleges today are learning that adult learners who are serious about education want and need a way to learn that fits their busy life schedules.
Online learning is becoming more and more the way to go for adult learners as they assess their options and think about what will benefit them the most. It is often less expensive and more convenient than campus-based education. It is also often more focused on the academic side of college, which is perfect for learning that is meant to help one advance oneâ€™s position in oneâ€™s career in the real world.
Anderson, T. (Ed.). (2008). The theory and practice of online learning. Athabasca University Press.
Concannon, F., Flynn, A., & Campbell, M. (2005). What campus?based students think about the quality and benefits of e?learning. British journal of educational technology, 36(3), 501-512.
?enda?, S., & Odaba??, H. F. (2009). Effects of an online problem based learning course on content knowledge acquisition and critical thinking skills. Computers & Education, 53(1), 132-141.
Yang, Y. T. C., Newby, T. J., & Bill, R. L. (2005). Using Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 163-181.
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