Distance learning is on the rise. According to reports by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, nearly 5.5 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2012, with 2.6 million enrolled in fully online programs. There’s significant evidence that this number will only continue to increase in the years to come, with some arguing that schools might someday be completely online.
Still, while critics of online learning might believe that online education provides students with a sub-par education, where students don’t have necessary skills to interact face-to-face, others students believe that’s hardly the case, as there are unique academic advantages in the online learning platform.
- Enhanced Classroom Discussion
Online courses offer the unique opportunity to further delve into classroom discussion in an environment where every student--even the wallflowers--are able to participate.
Furthermore, as former online student Lila Romero notes, discussion forums are a way that students can come together to take an more in depth look at the course content, expanding their knowledge of the material. Students also have more time to think about and process their responses.
Discussion forums also provide the unique opportunity for students to learn how to accept constructive criticism from their peers, and in an online format students are better able to back up their argument with statistics and studies.
- Economic Benefit
Education costs have dramatically increased in the years following the most recent economic recession. The cost of distance learning varies, and in some cases can be just as expensive as a traditional degree. Online learning offers students the flexibility to work while attending school, and although there can be some disadvantages to working while attending college, online learning offers flexibility for those who have to support themselves. Some online programs even offer free tuition to students who work in specific locations. For example, Arizona State University recently partnered with Starbucks, in an effort to help working students pursue an advanced education at no cost.
Aside from the professional flexibility online learning offers, students may also save money on textbooks. Many online professors provide reading materials, and access to digital publications through interlibrary loans. Online learning also eliminates other costly factors, such as travel and childcare expenses, which can be incurred when taking courses in a brick and mortar location.
- Students Learn Virtual Communication Skills
Communicating in an online format is no easy task. Miscommunication is frequent, and for students in an increasingly online world, learning how to communicate effectively in an online format is an important skillset. It’s important that students be mindful of their tone, as constructive criticism, while good intentioned, can come off as arrogant, and disorganized thoughts in an online setting are much more difficult to wade through.
Online programs also afford students the opportunity to access and feel comfortable around new communication mediums, including video conferencing tools, and instant messaging systems. With the unique challenges brought on by globalization, and the prevalence of remote employees, learning how to effectively communicate and stay connected is more important than ever.
- Knowledge Retention Increase
If delivered well, online classes can significantly help students retain information, as multimedia tools have been proven to improve our brain’s memory. Research suggests that using images and videos in lessons not only engage the learner, but they also help them better remember what they learned.
“According to research, students who used ebooks that contained sound effects, music, audio narration, and images were able to retain and recite more information than those who were simply given traditional textbooks,” notes Elearning Design and Development. “Utilizing these ebooks also lead to group collaboration and peer interaction, as the students did not have to sit quietly on their own and privately read the text.”
- Flexible Schedule is Better for Learning
Online classes are often desirable for the flexibility they provide, allowing students to work and take care of children. But flexibility also allows students to work during the time of day when their brains are the most high functioning, which is typically shortly after waking up. Studies by German researchers confirm that tiredness and fatigue have a huge impact on student learning, and found that taking a quick nap allows a learner’s brain to retain information more effectively.
About the Author:
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl