Online Learning in US Colleges

Introduction

Online learning has emerged as a new method of providing education that threatens the supremacy of the traditional classroom-learning environment. There is general agreement that education is an important tool for personal and societal environment. Quality education is attributed to positive outcomes such as improved socio-economic outcomes of individuals. Even nation is therefore keen to provide the best education to its citizens. In the US, education is provided for most students through traditional classroom learning. However, the past two decades have witnessed the development of a new learning method in the form of online learning.

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This learning method takes advantage of the advances made in information technology. As a relatively new means of providing education, online learning has come under focus by the various stakeholders in the education sector. American’s are interested in knowing if online learning is a positive force in the important issue of providing education to students. A closer look reveals that online learning presents numerous advantages by not only helping students overcome the time, distance and cost constraints imposed by traditional learning, but also enabling educational institutions to provide quality education to a larger number of students.

Why Online Learning is Superior

Considering the importance of education, it makes sense to make it easy for those seeking to advance their education to do so conveniently. Online learning promises to do this by enabling students to overcome the time and distance constraints present in traditional learning. In traditional learning, the student has to physically attend class at a given time. This creates time pressures especially for students who have other time consuming obligations. Clark reveals that over 4 million of time-stressed Americans are already opting for online education, which enables them to learn at a time of their choosing (par.2).

Instead of having to attend class physically at fixed time, these students can log into the virtual classrooms and learn at a time of their convenience. In addition to the time benefits, the virtual nature of the classroom means that students can learn from any geographical location. Individuals who wish to take a course in an education institution that is located far away from them can do so without having to travel significant distances each day (Snyder par.7). Many of my older friends have expressed a wish to advance their education. In spite of their desire, they claim that the time pressures and the travelling inconveniences of traditional learning make it impossible for them. With online learning, these adult learners can are provided with an opportunity to fulfil their goals of furthering their education. Jaggars reveals that the great convenience and flexibility offered by online learning has encouraged many adult learners to enroll for courses in colleges all over the US (25).

An important characteristic of online learning is that it enables students to learn at their own pace. Educators know that students have differing intellectual capabilities and favor varying learning styles. However, the traditional classroom environment does not enable the teacher to consider the different learning speeds of the student. The educator has to pick one pace and use it for teaching. The pace might be too fast or too slow for individual students depending on their learning abilities. Online learning makes it possible to deliver educational content to a student at the pace he/she is most comfortable with. In this learning method, tools such as discussion boards, education videos, and bulletin boards are used to deliver course content. Snyder declares that by using asynchronous learning tools, individuals have the opportunity to learn at their own pace unlike in the traditional classroom where everyone is forced to learn at the same pace (par. 7).

My experience in the traditional classroom has been that sometimes I find the tutor presenting information at a very fast pace. This prevents me from understanding all the content that is being delivered. The mismatch in learning pace also leads to frustration since I have to go review the lesson in order to understand the material. Online learning overcomes these challenges of traditional learning since the student is empowered to set his/her own pace. By focusing on learning through asynchronous tools, online learning programs enable students to choose their own learning pace and this increasing the level of understanding. As a result, online learners can achieve better grades from this learning system.

One of the most significant challenges in providing college education is that the educational resources available are inadequate to meet the demands for education by the society. The student population has been growing rapidly in all states over the past decade. Snyder admits that public and private institutes of higher learning are simply unable to build new facilities to cope with the expanding student population (7).

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Online learning presents a way for the education institutes to address the issue of physical resource limitations. In online learning, the education institute does not have to invest in physical infrastructure such as classrooms, hostels, parking area, and recreational facilities. In addition to this, issues such as classroom size do not occur since each student will be learning from a virtual environment. A single tutor is therefore able to cater to the learning needs of hundreds of students (Ni 202). Colleges are therefore able to cope with the rising demands presented by growing student populations. A friend of mine experienced the limitations that inadequate educational resources result in recently. He was eager to enroll for an accounting unit through the traditional classroom learning facilities offered in his college. When he tried applying for the unit, he received an email informing him that the course was unavailable since the maximum number of students had already enrolled.

He was forced to wait until the next semester and this was very inconveniencing to him. If the college were offering online learning for the course, it would have been possible to accommodate more students. Online learning provides a feasible solution to the resource problem that many education institutes face. Implementing this learning will ensure that schools can provide learning opportunities to the growing student population.

Arguments against Online Learning and Rebuttals

The most damaging claim made against online learning is that it leads to the provision of poor quality education to the student. Clark confirms that online learning courses offered by some colleges have been accused of being of a poor quality (par.3). These complaints are made since many educational institutes offering online learning attempt to reduce their costs. Cost reduction leads to the situation where the student-tutor ratio for online courses is very high. Jaggars confirms that online learning programs attempt to increase cost-effectiveness by having thousands of students enroll for a single course (28). The few instructors available cannot adequately cope with the student population.

To make the situation worse, institutions that are not accredited by approved agencies offer many of the online courses. The quality of education offered to students is therefore inferior to that provided through traditional learning classes. It is true that some institutes offering online courses provide low quality education. However, efforts have been made to increase the quality of online education. Allen and Seaman document that academic leaders have taken many steps to increase the quality of online education (23). Tools have been put in place to assess the quality of online instruction and ensure that the instructors adequately serve students. The quality of online education provided by institutions accredited by federally approved agencies therefore provide learning whose quality is similar to that provided in traditional classrooms.

Another disadvantage of online learning is that it does not give students the chance to be involved in a community. In the traditional classroom, students are able to meet and interact with each other face to face. Through these interactions, students acquire various social skills such as how to make friends and how to interact with diverse people. The traditional classroom therefore equips the individual to deal with others in the wider society.

The defining characteristic of online learning is that the students do not interact with each other physically. As a result, it prevents educational institutes from fulfilling the role of socializing students. In online learning, there is a feeling of isolation since the student is physically separated from his/her peers. Jaggars reveals that the online learning environment does not foster the sense of community that leads to rich interactions among students (20). Students who are participating in class virtually end up feeling alone and adrift. While online learning involves the physical separation of the students, this does not necessarily mean that they cannot interact as a community. Lohr declares that while online learning takes education out of the classroom, the learning still takes place in the context of a community (par.12).

The online students form a learning community that interacts in a manner similar to that of the traditional classroom one. Through tools such as discussion forums and chats, students are able to interact with each other and socialize. The socialization goal of education is therefore able to occur within the online environment.

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Conclusion

Education is an important tool for advancing our nation and all efforts must be taken to ensure that students receive the best education. It can be seen that online education makes it possible to provide educational opportunities to more Americans. Online learning enables students to overcome the time and distance constraints present in traditional learning. The great convenience and flexibility of online learning has encouraged many people to enroll in courses. It also enables students to learn at their own pace through the personalized learning programmes. This paper has also discussed how online learning enables schools to overcome their resource limitations.

The major disadvantage of online learning is that it might lead to poor quality education being offered to students. However, this issue is being addressed by academic leaders who have taken steps to increase educational quality. Proper accreditation of institutes has ensured that online courses meet the standards imposed by federally approved accreditation agencies. From the various arguments made in this paper, it is evident that the future of college education in the country lies with online learning.

Works Cited

Allen, Elaine and Jeff Seaman. Changing course: ten years of tracking online education in the United States. NY: Peason. 2015. Web.

Clark, Kim. Online education offers access and affordability. 2009. Web.

Jaggars, Smith. Online learning: does it help low-income and underprepared students?  2011. Web.

Lohr, Steve. Study finds that online education beats the classroom. 2009. Web.

Ni, Anna. “Comparing the Effectiveness of Classroom and Online Learning: Teaching Research Methods”. Journal of Public Affairs Education 19.2 (2013): 199-215. Web.

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Snyder, Tom. The benefits of online learning. 2013. Web.

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