I strongly believe that the future of higher education lies with online learning. Increasingly, colleges and university students now find themselves with other obligations beyond that of getting a degree. Jobs and family commitments make equal demands on their time. Having the option of taking online classes and studying on their own time is critically important. At the same time, many state institutions are unable to accommodate all those who want to take classes on campus, escalating the demand for online learning.
Finally, lifelong learning must now be a part of everyone’s career plans. In today’s job market, taking online courses help workers remain competitive and they don’t need to take time off from their jobs to do this.
Community colleges have been in the forefront of online learning. In the 2010-11 semester, Ivy Tech in Indiana had more than 79,000 unduplicated students in 300 credit earning online courses. Governor Jerry Brown of California just announced a pilot program offering low-cost online courses to the state’s public institutions of higher education. The emphasis will be placed on course work for entry-level math, college algebra, and elementary statistics — subjects that normally have high failure rates.
Students need to determine if online learning is an option for them because not everyone does well with this type of study. Some questions that any potential online students should ask is whether or not they can learn independently; how organized they are with their time; whether they are computer savvy; their level of reading comprehension; and if they have at least ten hours a week to devote to each course.
Many make the mistake of assuming that an online class will be easier than one taken in a traditional classroom. Often online instructors assign more reading materials than required in a regular classroom to ensure that students are engaged. Motivation is key to an online student’s success as is his ability to reach out to both instructors and fellow students using software such as Blackboard.
That software program seamlessly integrates social media, making it possible to create online communities that are course specific. Blogs, tweets, podcasts, webcasts, online chats, discussion boards, and virtual study jams are all part of the online mix. Success in an online course often depends on how connected a student feels to his instructor and fellow students.
I believe that online learning has the potential to revolutionize higher education. Students will be able to learn at their own pace and problems as simple as finding a place to park on campus will be eliminated. Public colleges and universities simply cannot build new facilities to accommodate all those who need credits in higher education. In addition, credit hours taken online particularly at a community college are often less expensive. It therefore makes good financial sense for a student to take core courses online at a community college and then transfer those credits to a four year institution.
Local businesses can also benefit from online learning. At Ivy Tech, we work directly with local manufacturing firms to meet their future workforce needs. Online learning not only trains the workers of the future, it can also provide a career path for someone employed, who needs to learn new skills. Employers should recommend online courses that will help with career advancement and, if possible, offer tuition re-imbursement.
For online learning to succeed it is also essential that we find and train instructors who can adapt to this new medium. Fortunately, new technology makes it possible for instructors to create exciting new ways to learn online that engage students in ways that are more effective than a lecture hall with hundreds of students.
We also need to develop a national transfer pool so that certain online courses can be taken anywhere in the country and then transferred to the student’s home institution. No student should face being shut out of a class he needs to get a degree when he can take the same course online at another institution.
Higher education officials need to seek out partnerships with technology companies to ensure that their online learning courses take advantage of all new developments that increase the capacity to learn.
I foresee a time when there will be totally virtual colleges and universities and students will not only take classes at their own institution, but expand their scope by enrolling in courses at the great institutions of learning around the world. Image studying political science with Bill Clinton or science with a Nobel Prize winner.
We are in the early days of online learning. The possibilities are limitless.