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?

Truthfully, there is no definitive list of the best online colleges, and you’re likely to find different opinions from different sources. However, a reputable online college is always accredited, and offers flexible scheduling as well as a variety of degree options. The colleges listed in the table below meet these criteria and are our "top 5" most popular online education options for students according to our user data:

SchoolDescription
Liberty University Liberty University
Accreditation
  • SACSCOC
At Liberty University, students can chose from approximately 70 majors and specializations including aeronautics, philosophy, religion, English, worship and music ministry, business, and criminal justice. Online degrees can be found from the associates to doctoral level. Students may also choose to attend courses on campus.
Kaplan University Kaplan University
Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
Kaplan University offers online degree programs in the fields of Arts, Sciences, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Health Sciences, Information Systems, Technology, Legal Studies, Nursing, and Law. Degree programs are designed with the working professional in mind, and afford you the flexibility to work while earning your degree.
St Leo University St Leo University
Accreditation
  • SACS
St Leo University specializes in undergraduate programs for students with credits transferrable to over 100 four-year schools in the country. The schools offers both bachelor and associate degrees, giving you more control over the type of degree you want to pursue. St Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Walden University Walden University
Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
At Walden University, prospective students have more than 15 online bachelor degree programs and 55 different concentrations from which to choose. Advisors are ready to help you select the degree that will allow you to achieve your career and personal goals. Walden understands the rigors of working full time while earning a degree.
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.

Click here to search for other popular online colleges

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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