Why Online Education is Effective

Why Online Education is Effective

Anyone born after 1990 might take for granted the ease of 24/7 access to all knowledge ever published. Of course, the invention of the Internet and its quick evolution into a central component of our everyday lives has also brought with it pop-ups ads, malicious email scams, and a staggering number of novel ways to waste time (Hello, BuzzFeed.). But in general, the Internet is regarded as one of the most positive and impactful innovations in recent history. It has reshaped not only society, but humanity itself.

Shell-shocked, our culture has sometimes struggled to reconcile our previous practices with the new technology. Businesses are quickly learning the importance of IT departments and big data. Universities have had to rush to keep pace with growing demands for computer courses and research. And with our evolution toward leading our busy and connected—but enriching—lives on a limited budget, we have developed the most efficient tools to maximize both time and money. Online education — the newest form of distance learning — is gaining ground as a viable option for people who want to continue their schooling on their own terms.

The History of Distance Learning

The history of distance learning stretches back not just years, but centuries. In 1728, the Boston Gazette advertised courses by post for people who wanted to learn shorthand. In 1858, the University of London began offering distance-learning degrees; the University of Wisconsin and others followed suit before the end of the century. By 1906, the University of Wisconsin was recording lectures and sending them to students in phonograph form. In the 1950s and 60s, universities began offering courses via radio and television broadcast.

The first virtual classroom was created by students at the University of Illinois in the 1960s. They linked their computer terminals together to create a classroom system that enabled cooperation and collaboration. Computer skills classes crept into the curriculum over the next few decades, but it wasn’t until 1995 that a Penn State University professor taught the first course delivered over the web.

Online education is designed for students who want more flexibility than that offered a “traditional” brick-and-mortar classroom. Sometimes these students have full-time jobs or families, but often an individual simply recognizes that they prefer to learn at their own pace. According to a 2012 survey, more than 6.7 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, and approximately one-third of higher education students took at least one course online. Of those surveyed, 77% of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes of online education as the same or superior to “face-to-face” courses.

How are the best online colleges determined?

To help us find some of the best colleges and universities that cater to distance learners, we turned to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The list below features a collection of the top accredited schools from all over the country that give students the option to pursue a variety of certificate, undergraduate, or graduate degree programs entirely online (source: NCES.ED.gov: CollegeNavigator, data 2018).

SchoolDescription
American Intercontinental University
American Intercontinental University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
"American Intercontinental University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting, acquisition and contract management, business, criminal justice, economics, education, health services administration, information systems, marketing, and public administration. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, AIU graduates have the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in the workforce."
Antioch University
Antioch University

Accreditation
  • HLC
"Antioch University provides learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, economic, and environmental justice. We aspire to be a leading university, offering learners and communities transformative education in a global context that fosters innovation and inspires social action."
Colorado State University - Global Campus
Colorado State University - Global Campus

Accreditation
  • HLC
"CSU-Global Campus is committed to advancing student success in a global society, investing in human capital, expanding the state economy, and enhancing the quality of life for citizens in the state of Colorado and beyond by providing access to dynamic degree programs characterized by academic excellence, innovative delivery technologies, and strong stakeholder engagement."
Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology

Accreditation
  • SACS
"Florida Tech’s mission is to provide high-quality education to a culturally diverse student body in order to prepare students for entering the global workforce, seeking higher-education opportunities, and serving within their communities. The university also seeks to expand knowledge through research and to serve the diverse economic, cultural, and societal needs of our constituencies."
Grantham University
Grantham University

Accreditation
  • DEAC
"As a 100% online university serving a highly diverse student population, Grantham believes education should enhance your life – not get in the way of it. That’s why everything we do, every single day, is centered on our students – minimizing potential obstacles and maximizing quality learning. You do your part by working hard to earn your degree. And we do ours by providing you an exceptional Grantham experience that leads to an even more amazing career."
Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University

Accreditation
  • NEASC
"Our university mission is to deliver an exceptional education that inspires professional success and lifelong personal and intellectual growth – the JWU College of Online Education gives us another way to deliver on that promise. Graduates will leave with professional competence, a foundation for lifelong learning, and respect for global and community citizenship."
Northcentral University
Northcentral University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
"As a regionally accredited, private, online and graduate-focused university, NCU offers doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business and technology management, education, and psychology, as well as doctoral and master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy. NCU utilizes a one-to-one learning model to create a more personalized, individual experience for students enhanced by their professors’ real-world experience."
South University
South University

Accreditation
  • SACSCOC
"Believing that qualified individuals should have the privilege of formal academic training, South University welcomes those who seek educational challenges. To this end, the University provides a learning environment, both on campus and online, that helps students identify goals and the means to achieve them. Students learn by interacting with a community of faculty, staff, and administration dedicated to the university’s academic purpose."
University of Wisconsin Colleges
University of Wisconsin Colleges

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
"Designed for working adults with some college credit or on-the-job experience, UW Flexible Option breaks free from rigid semester schedules. Start any month, move at your own pace, and test whenever you’re ready. You can also use your current knowledge and prior experience to progress toward your degree, which may help save you time and money."
Walden University
Walden University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
"Walden University provides a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change. Through programs that reflect current market trends and promote positive social change, Walden is committed to helping you achieve your goals, enabling you to make a difference in your career and community as a Walden graduate."

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Why is Online Education Effective?

There are a number of reasons…

  1. Choice of schools, programs, and courses. The same benefit enjoyed by distance learners of shorthand in the 18th century is still enjoyed by online learners today: Your geographic location doesn’t matter. Online learners have a wealth of options when it comes to what and where they learn. Connect with leaders in your field, even if they live thousands of miles away.
  2. Flexibility. This is another benefit enjoyed by all kinds of distance learning methods, from the photograph recording to the email assignment. Mold your class schedule and workload to fit your own life. Complete assignments when you have time, and take time off to deal with the obligations of life whenever you need it. This is especially practical for people who lead busy lives—which, let’s be honest, is most everyone these days!
  3. Lower stress. This is not to say that online courses are easy and don’t require hard work. But given the flexibility of timing, you don’t have to worry about waking up at 7 AM for class after staying up til 4 AM finishing a cluttered and barely edited paper. With proper scheduling, you’re afforded more time to get done what you need to, and do it when it works for you.
  4. Learning pace. Online learning allows students to ensure they completely understand the material before moving on, or speed through the material that comes easily. Since you can access materials 24 hours a day, you can take as much time as you need to read, review, and complete assignments. If you choose to bang it out in a week, you can; if you need to spread it out over a few months, that’s fine too.
  5. Participation. Students in an online class are often required to interact with one another in some forum. But unlike the traditional classroom setting in which the fast talker is advantaged, the online forum allows for every student to stand on equal footing. This is helpful to quieter or less forceful individuals who find themselves overwhelmed by the traditional classroom environment.
  6. Independence. Since you have to complete assignments on your own time, your success is dependent only on you. Plus, you won’t be weighed down by the negative energy projected from students that don’t really care to be there, which is sadly all too common in traditional universities.
  7. Monetary savings. College costs have skyrocketed, and online courses are often a fraction of the price. Students are understanding more and more that a high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean quality, and an affordable class gives the same or greater benefits. Plus online courses don’t incur costs for transportation or accommodation. Skip the dorm room and work from your living room.

More and more universities and learning centers are offering online courses, either exclusively or to complement their traditional curriculum. And the offerings of online learning will only continue to increase in number and quality. Recently, MIT published a study that suggests the effectiveness is nearly the same between traditional and online education.

So is an online education right for you? The U.S. Department of Education released a study in 2010 concluding that “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.” However, the study also found that “the effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.” (Read the full study here.) If you’re interested in pursuing an online education, learn more about the differences between online and traditional classroom settings by following our site and keeping up with our blog.

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