Learning in an Online World is Increasingly Becoming Mainstream
Today’s college experience extends far beyond dorm life and the social habits of 18, -19- and 20-something year-olds or hanging out with one’s sorority or fraternity between classes. While such activities still have a place, there is also a place—and a need—for much more.
Students increasingly expect college courses to be in session when they are available, instead of being asked to attend core classes offered at the university’s convenience. According to Reuters, as reported on Oct. 1, 2009, statistics show that one in four American college students today attend at least one course online. The virtual classroom clearly fills a need that traditional brick-and-mortar-based instruction cannot.
As a University of Phoenix faculty member, I was privileged to be among the first who made the transition. I began teaching for the San Diego campus not long after I received my doctorate in 1990. For me, the concept of going from teaching in a classroom to teaching online was still foreign. I had just begun to use e-mail. I had a vague idea of what an online class might look like using email as a way to make and receive assignments. Five years later, although I was still a bit skeptical about teaching some of my “touchy feely” topics over the Internet, I decided to give it a try.
Some people remain unsure about online or hybrid learning that takes place both online and in the classroom. And I can relate. It is hard to imagine the power of online learning unless you have tried it. I can distinctly remember my first class; it felt a bit like someone had turned off all the lights. My perspective has changed drastically. I soon found that an online education was not a substitute for the “real thing.” This was, in many ways, even better than traditional methods.
Skepticism has lessened considerably in the past decade, particularly among the younger generation. They have grown up texting, using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other digital media. So they are much less likely to doubt their ability to engage with others through the Internet. Perception about online and hybrid learning models are slowly shifting in the business world as well. In my industries, consulting and training, they are learning that it’s possible to create a high-touch environment, even in a high-tech setting.
Some of the most redeeming or beneficial aspects of the University of Phoenix learning model include seeing the students form real bonds. At times, when students voice concerns or say they are considering dropping out, their classmates are able to change their minds by promising—and delivering their support. In addition, the ability to manage and be a member of a virtual team, the way we do in a virtual classroom, is something students can list on their resume.
Online technology also makes immediate feedback possible. Courses taught in a traditional classroom may meet only once a week. Online, it’s possible to remain in touch 24/7. If a student has a question or concern, their instructor will see it within 12 hours. Usually, they see it much sooner.
For these reasons and more, innovative educational technology will continue to play a role in the future of college students as it becomes ever increasingly mainstream.
This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.