Thursday, June 23, 2011

Online College: An Old Idea with New Possibilities

Are you thinking about attending an online college to pursue either a degree or a specialized certificate—one that can help you advance in your career? Does the “newness” with regards to this type of educational model make you a bit wary about its effectiveness and legitimacy? If so, recent studies show that your worries are grossly misplaced, and believe it or not, this type of learning model is anything but new. In fact, the only thing that’s new about this type of education is that it relies on the Internet and other technologies—aspects that, ironically, have only enhanced the distance learning process and made it much more effective.

While the notion of an “online” college is still relatively new, the process known as distance learning, which is exactly what an online college offers, is anything but a novel idea, dating back, according to many sources, to the early 1960s. Distance learning was first offered by a select group of colleges and universities across the country in the 1960s and 1970s, and quickly became popular because it allowed students to attend the college of their choice—one that offered a particular course of study that appealed to them—without having to relocate to that area in order to take the required classes in the more traditional “brick and mortar” setting.

In those times, the process associated with distance learning was quite simple. The instructor would send the class materials to the student via the US mail, and once the materials were received the student would do the appropriate reading, complete any relative assignments and coursework, perhaps even take an assessment of some kind, and then package it all up to send back to the instructor—again via the US snail mail. It was a great concept, but unfortunately it had some glaring disadvantages, not the least of which was the inability for teacher and student to communicate in a timely manner. For example, if a student had a question about an assignment, or if he/she wanted to have a term paper looked over before submitting the final copy, the process could take days—two days in the mail to send the question or paper, and another two for the reply. These types of issues made early distance learning programs a bit ineffective, but fortunately, with the introduction of the online college, and all the relevant technologies associated with it; those issues have now been resolved.

Studying at an online college, while certainly still a form of distance learning, gives you around-the-clock access to instructors and fellow classmates via technologies such as email, instant messaging, video conferencing, forums and bulletin boards. You’ll attend virtual classrooms and hear lectures in real time without ever having to leave the comfort of your home or personal office. It affords you all the advantages of being an on-campus student without the hassle and the expense of commuting. You can schedule your course work around your job and other obligations, and study only when it’s convenient for you. And perhaps the best part of attending an online college is the price. At an online college, because there is less operating overhead, the tuition is usually much more affordable.

According to several studies, there is no significant difference in terms of the effectiveness when comparing the traditional classroom model to the online college, and in many cases, the motivated student can actually achieve more academically through this type of education delivery, simply because it allows him/her to complete the coursework at their convenience, during times when they are more relaxed and ready to learn.

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