Thanks to Technology, Online Schools a Viable Option

Thanks to Technology, Online Schools a Viable Option
Thanks to Technology, Online Schools a Viable Option

Brianna Meiers writes around the web about issues of technology and education, and has recently published a comprehensive look at online schooling available today. In her post below, Brianna discusses ways in which Internet learning may be helpful to Americans posted or living abroad.

Traditional study abroad programs present students with a range of choices as it is, as facultyabroad.com has explored. The online opportunities presented below expand the possibilities even further, giving students more to think about than ever.

Online Schools a Viable Option as Technology Improves and Students Go Abroad

Despite rapidly growing mainstream acceptance, online education is still considered a subpar form of education in many circles. Yet, even with this stigma, online schooling continues to experience growth at levels far greater than traditional education models. As more people around the globe rely on technology in their daily lives, virtual schools broaden the availability of top US schools, while offering US citizens an opportunity to live abroad while still receiving an education from US-based institutions.

Over the past decade, enrollment in online courses consistently increased every year, at a rate of more than 10 times that of traditional schools. In 2010, more than 6.1 million students were taking online courses, a full 10.1% increase over fall 2009. For many faculty members at brick-and-mortar schools, these statistics have been startling, as online schools are most likely affecting enrollment at traditional schools, potentially hurting their long-term viability. A recent study by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group found that 58% of college faculty member respondents described themselves as “filled more with fear than with excitement” over the growth of online courses within higher education.

However, many mainstream schools have recently taken to embracing the new venue by offering their own online curriculum. For the fall of 2012, over 100 open online courses will be made available through Coursera, a company that aggregates and facilitates online courses from many top schools around the country, including Stanford, Princeton, and Penn State. While top schools like CalState Berkeley and MIT have allowed internet users to stream online courses for years, for the first time, some of theses courses will offer credit. Technological advances, including greatly improved online delivery platforms, and the capacity to analyze huge numbers of student experiences have provided the push needed for dozens of schools to get involved with online learning.

For many online learners, much of the format’s appeal is the freedom it allows users to live anywhere while still working towards a degree. Students are far more capable of working a full time job while enrolled. Many are even choosing to live abroad while still attending courses at top US schools. Army private Sarah Gerke, for example, has been able to keep up with her coursework at Columbia College in Missouri while stationed in Iraq. “Even if I could attend in person,” says Gerke, “I think I would stick with online classes for the convenience. In fact, approximately 2/3rds of Coursera’s students are from overseas, with most courses attracting tens of thousands of students.

As the inevitable shift towards online schooling becomes increasingly apparent, the most successful professors will likely be those who embrace the benefits of online schooling. “Every academic has a little soapbox,” says Scott E. Page, a University of Michigan professor. “By most calculations, I had about 200 years’ worth of students in my class,” said Page, after discovering that more than 40,000 students downloaded his model thinking class videos on Coursera. While brick-and-mortar schools will likely remain intact for the foreseeable future, the impact from online schools will become increasingly apparent. If the academic community can embrace the benefits of online education venues, we could be on the verge of a truly global democratization of education.

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