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In Praise of Online Education!

By Stacey Ross

I took some online courses years back and distinctly remember wishing that technological advances in the future would enable classmates and instructors to engage more effectively and make learning a more dynamic experience. Well, that day has now arrived! Today, advancements in high-speed internet, Live HD video, new conferencing technologies, and FaceTime enhance the quality of the online learning experience, and the excitement surrounding it is only predicted to grow! Students are embracing online education as an opportunity to earn college credits and degrees, or just take classes they are interested in – all from the comfort of their own homes!

In a 2012 Pew Research Center report, The Future of Higher Education, educators and tech experts gave their insights on education in the twenty-first century. While online education was one of the most controversial topics, the fact that instructors and students alike are embracing viable options to traditional teaching and schooling speaks volumes! Over three-fourths reported that their schools have been implementing Internet-based courses, and that is not even including the exclusively online universities!

Some educational traditionalists argue that the essence of high quality learning is slowly diminishing due to the lack of face time, and they are likewise concerned that only the most privileged will be able to afford the experience of a higher education in the “real world” scenario. Others, however, contend that we must grow with our technological advances. While the cost of a college education continues to rise, more and more educational institutions will likely follow suit and offer online courses, which provide a more affordable option than traditional schooling.

“For the first two years I taught online, all of my courses were text-based. I didn’t have videos, audio, etc., just email, PowerPoint slides, assignment posts, and tests,” said Melissa Conrey, health instructor at Mira Costa in San Diego County. “Now, as I’m learning more about what technology is out there, I’m adding videos, personalized audio feedback to each student, blogs, etc. Instructors have access to two different Course Management Systems (Blackboard or Moodle) and can use what they prefer. We have a Program for Online Teaching that provides seminars on technology, best practices, etc. and allows for instructors to share ideas.”

The ability to attend school online has enabled an unprecedented flexibility, particularly for parents who have to contend with busy lives and family schedules and for students who are in rural areas or unable to attend the schools in person. Also noteworthy is the real-time commodity of home tutoring opportunities, which provide students in need of help assistance from qualified teachers. Tutorvista.com and Tutor.com are great examples of these types of online services. A flexible model, referred to as “blended learning”, offers the best of both online and traditional learning, as explained in  Education Week’s Digital Directions, which highlights recent developments and effective models of e-learning that blend virtual education along with face-to-face instruction.

To many, getting a degree would have been next to impossible without the option of attending classes online. Between working and tending to her growing family's needs, such as doctor and parent-teacher conferences, performances, and school affairs, Cathie Nichols, a Carlsbad, California mom with a family of five, found that the most practical way to achieve a degree in communication was through online courses, and this is what she did very successfully for two years. Referring to her time spent studying online, she said, “The first thing I loved about earning a degree online was the online library, open 24/7, that was chock-full of peer-reviewed materials. There were literally thousands of articles from which to choose! The other benefit was the ability to submit my papers to a computer that checked my grammar and gave instant feedback. I could submit my papers at 4 a.m. and get them back within minutes, and with everything I needed to improve. No more waiting for professors!”

Regardless of one’s means of achieving an education, the possibilities, thanks to technological advances, are evolving to include interaction among teachers and students, showing great advances worthy of applause!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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