The Internet’s Significant Impact on EducationAs more and more students gained access to the internet in the 1990’s, they soon saw it as a tool for the advancement of learning. Textbooks in some schools were out of date, computer-based courses were often called monotonous, whereas research on the internet moved quickly, was up to date, and included a wide variety of international sources. Students were among the first to realize the impact of the internet on their education—barriers to learning had been removed. Computer-literate teachers, researchers, and scholars saw the opportunity at the same time. Online education was born.
We, the developers of this website, were surprised to learn at a parent-teacher conference that our son, high school class of 2000, would be the one of the first to graduate whose work showed a greater reliance on information gained from the internet than on his textbooks. Fortunately, his progressive teachers and principal saw learning online as an advantage and encouraged his study habits as long as he achieved the course goals.
With nearly 888,631,131 users on the internet in 2005, 13.9% of the world’s population (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm), reliance on this tool has increased exponentially. Social barriers are disappearing as students interact worldwide. As technology improves, the technological revolution has a quicker and deeper impact on more and more lives.
Educators, particularly those in for-profit colleges such as University of Phoenix, saw the opportunity early on and built an online course and online degree structure. The more traditional colleges were not far behind as they soon discovered they were losing student enrollments to for-profit schools and had to adapt, to change their paradigm—to move into online education.
There are several key advantages to using the internet for education:
• Flexibility and variety in mode and appearanceFlexibility and Variety
• Ease and low cost of access for learners worldwide
• Ease of putting student information online
• Ease of updating course information.
The flexibility of the internet is perhaps the greatest advantage for online education. At first, some college courses attempted to replicate the traditional college experience: lectures were videotapes so that students off campus could watch them. But, as Bernadette Howlett of ISU so deftly pointed out, it was already apparent that lectures were not the most successful way to impart information to students. Trying to “…replicate classroom teaching in the online environment…” would cause educators to “fail to take advantage of the capabilities of the medium. Some situations may call for video, but not simply to replace the face-to-face lecture.”
With the ease of creating websites, including interactive activities, chatrooms, and blogs, online education students and their professors can interact in ways that are familiar to them. For those new to the internet, the online course activities are assimilated easily due to reliance on user-friendly approaches. Even those new to the internet will learn to use it as they progress in their online coursework, finding themselves more and more comfortable as time goes on.
At least one MBA course has been created in which a corporate environment is simulated so effectively that students gain real practice accessing typical documents, attending simulated meetings, creating “real-world” assignments, and essentially gaining on-the-job experience as they learn online.
Ease and Low Cost of Access
Perhaps one of the greatest impacts of the internet on education is the removal of barriers to gaining knowledge. It is no longer imperative that a student move or even travel in order to take a class or earn a degree from the right college. Working professionals who had to travel to and from classes after work now use those travel hours as study hours. For those with disabilities, online study is an even greater equalizer.
With enrollment in an online course and the motivation and responsibility required, a student in a rural area can stay at home and learn online, for example, programming or database administrator skills. Live in rural Idaho and want to study Italian or Principles of International Business? Doable. Retired and want to learn oil painting from your living room? You have only to find the right online art course for you. Don’t have the funds to attend an ivy-league school? Take an online course for a fraction of the cost.
Working professionals, by far the majority of enrollees in online course enrollment, continue to work full time, raise families, and take necessary courses and, if desired, earn the degrees or credentials they need for advancement and/or salary increases at work. Both they and their employers benefit from this win/win approach: business meetings are attended, business trips are taken, and coursework is completed—at the student’s convenience, albeit at 11:00 PM or 5:00 AM in pajamas and slippers. The employer retains the employee’s contribution to the organization and benefits from the gain in information and skill. The employee retains his or her job, learns what is needed for advancement, and enjoys family life while being at home.
One area that still requires attention is high-speed access in some rural areas. While most enrollees have such access, many rural areas are still on dialup and students find that some interactive courses that utilize videoconferencing are not possible for them.
Ease and Low Cost of Putting Information Line
Online course technology is constantly improving. Colleges that utilize available, tested technologies from proven vendors find it much easier to move into the online arena quickly than do those who try to invent a new approach.
Online classes now revolve around the faculty and students ease of using chat, email, and interactive meetings to gain and share information. Shy students who might not speak up in class find it easy to key in their ideas during their online class. And the records are retained so those who could not attend are able access the information at a time convenient for them. Students for whom English is a second language (ESL) have multiple chances to review the information and ensure they understood it so they can keep up with their online class.
Ease of Updating Information
Unlike revising a textbook, online course changes can be easily made or new material added to existing online courses. Online class enrollees may receive instantly the results of their exams instead of having to wait for days to know how they did. Student papers can be offered online for review by peers. A new source of information, perhaps a research paper or an editorial, is easily added to the online syllabus.
The growth of the internet has changed significantly the way we learn. Online education has made it possible for most of us to learn online, to become masters of subject areas, to develop business skills, even to learn meditation from anywhere, any time. Online education has a flexibility that enables those enrolled to learn and earn, never missing a meeting, a class, or time with families. Working professionals are motivated to learn and to earn online degrees essential for on-the-job advancement, particularly single mothers with children who might have found it impossible to move ahead two decades ago. Gone is the stress that attending night school used to create.
And online learning is still in its infancy! Leaders in the field are now looking at how education could use the mobile platforms—mobile phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), tablets, MP3 players, handhelds, laptops, among other possibilities, according to Ellen D. Wagner and Robby Robson in “Education Unplugged: Mobile Learning Comes of Age”.
Page 2: Who is the Right Student for Online Education?
Page 3: How Does a Student Select an Online School?
Page 4: Typical Goals of Online Students
Page 5: Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning: Is It the Right Choice for You?