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What You Should Know About Online Learning

06.14.2013
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The world of education has been changing dramatically over the past several years. While distance learning has been around for a long time, it previously consisted of using snail mail to correspond with your professor or teacher. Now, however, the Internet has made the ability to engage with your teachers and classmates entirely without leaving your home. Distance learning is also known as e-learning and while is a new and exciting way to study at your own pace, it may not be for everyone so all weighing all the pros and cons is important in deciding if it is right for you.

What is E-Learning?

E-learning is a general term but basically refers to the use of electronic media in lieu of a physical classroom.  Every e-learning course can be slightly different and might use different strategies to communicate lessons, assignments, and interaction between the teacher and the student.

In today’s online classroom, generally it is based on accessing the material via the Internet.  Some incorporate audio, video, CD-ROM, or other computer based software in order to provide the lesson material as well as provide a way for students to listen to an instructor or be able to ask questions.

E-learning can actually take place online or even in a classroom with computers depending on the program itself.  Typically it is self-paced and provides the chance for a student to take their time and learn at the own pace.  Often there is a portion of the class that might have a face-to-face component with an instructor, something many people find very helpful.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that self-discipline is often necessary and learning from home usually provides many opportunities for distractions.  While the majority of courses require basic computer technology in order to access and navigate a course, it is typically not too difficult to achieve.  One also has to consider whether the lack of face-to-face instruction by a teacher is something that they can overcome.

For a more comprehensive overview of E-learning, see the Wikipedia page -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elearning

What is the history of E Learning?

Surprisingly computerized courses began as early as the 1960’s and started with students using computer terminals and listening to recorded lectures.  They were also used as a way to teach advanced math and science to gifted children to a group of students in Palo Alto, California.  Other schools began to take notice and the practice of distance learning sprung forth.

The use of computers and computer based learning over the next two decades expanded, mostly in colleges and universities.  Open University in Britain really broke the mold by beginning to use the Internet to deliver learning in an ever expanding, technologically savvy student population.  In the 1990’s the first online high school was created as well.  CAL Campus, based out of New Hampshire, was the first school to create an entirely online curriculum creating a virtual classroom and linking students at home to their teachers in classroom.

As technology and the power and efficiency of the Internet expanded, the emergence of e learning programs have become a powerful learning tool.  Online learning has continued to rapidly expand and now many schools and programs are available to suit a wide variety of learning styles and providing an alternative way for anyone to learn without having to sit in a physical classroom.

What types of courses are available?Online Learning

First, almost any basic subject is available for both primary, secondary, and higher education levels.  Each student should compare and contrast the different programs, as well as their individual needs and learning styles to determine which program is right for them.

Certain courses are what are considered synchronous learning.  This style involves all students enrolled in a course to be learning content at the same time.  Asynchronous involves more of a self-paced course where each individual can go at their own pace.  This often relies on email and discussion boards as a way of discussing material and asking questions. Synchronous does not necessarily involve face-to-face meeting but often incorporates webcam, Skype conversations or even chat rooms to give the student a chance to interact with their instructor and ask live questions.

Computer based courses usually provide materials, such as a digital textbook or other resources, via a CD ROM.  Web based courses, in contrast, deliver the instructional resources via the Internet.  This unique way of learning allows students to gain a deeper understanding of material that they may not have received otherwise in a traditional classroom because it expands the learning methods to suit an individual’s preferences.  It is limited to content that doesn’t require face-to-face instruction.  For example, an interactive lab course would have difficulty in a set up such as this.

The classroom 2.0 allows multiple classes across the globe to connect, work together, and enhance student learning.  E-learning 2.0 has helped bridge the social interaction gap that exists in an online course and allows students to link together and interact via blogs, podcasts, virtual learning tools and cloud-based solutions

The advancement of T technology and cloud-based solutions for schools has made online learning possible and has evolved it from simple computerized games and lessons to creating an engaging and innovative tool to expand learning possibilities and bring higher education to anyone, anywhere in the world.  The use of audio and video began the revolution in education but it certainly has greatly expanded.  Now a teacher can record themselves teaching or students can log on and watch a real-time live webcasts.  Technology now includes not just computers and laptops, but Ipads and other mobile devices allows students to take their classroom with them wherever they go and further increasing the possibilities for learning.  Blogging allows students and teachers to post their thoughts and questions creating a more social interaction.

How do I communicate with my teacher or tutor?

As we know, technology in Education has advanced dramatically over the past five years, to the point where schools have their own internal IT Support Departments, overseeing server environments and rooms full of desktops. The Internet has also vastly expanded the means in which students can communicate with their teachers and peers.  Through blogs, online discussion boards, webcasts, Skype, and even chat rooms, students can log on at any time and view a lecture or ask questions.  Teachers can pose discussion questions for students to consider in which they can think and discuss with each other.  Even at large universities, this type of discussion is often impossible due to large class sizes.  E-learning provides a unique learning opportunity through the power of technology.

What is a virtual classroom?

A virtual classroom uses the web and other technologies to closely replicate the experience of being in a physical classroom by creating a virtual class.  Often classes use a variety of platforms to allow students to access classes and other content and discuss with their peers.  Typically, the virtual classroom is a synchronous class because students can discuss and hear lectures from their teacher in real time, mimicking a real classroom environment.

Teachers can deliver lessons through live webcasts and students can use different technologies to raise their hand, ask questions, or answer questions posed by the teacher.  There is an ever-growing wealth of technology available that is allowing a huge variety of online courses to become a virtual experience.  It is a good alternative for a student who cannot physically go to a classroom but wishes to have a more real learning experience.

Is E-learning for me?

Every student may find that they enjoy learning in a different way and E-learning is providing a way for nearly every type of student to find what works best for them.  Some advantages to learning online is that each student can make the class work around their schedule, which is especially good for those with children or who are already employed.  It also eliminates the needs to traveling to and from a classroom and allows the student to access their class from anywhere with an Internet connection.

If you are considering online learning you will need to make sure that you have access to reliable Internet connection and the ability to acquire the technology you made need to be successful in your class.  A student also may need to consider the fact that if they don’t have strong self-motivation; they may find they fall behind in the class.  There is also a lack of face-to-face social interaction with peers, though some virtual classrooms help alleviate this problem.   Whatever your learning style, there most likely is an online course that will suit your needs and provide you with an opportunity to gain knowledge, skills, perhaps even a new degree to enhance your career and lifestyle.

Published at DZone with permission of Paul Andrews, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)