According to an article published by the Purdue – Global – University, on March 12, 2019, “Enrollment in online college continues to climb, according to a 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of students enrolled in at least one online college course was 6.3 million in 2016, up from 5.9 million in 2015, the latest years for which data is available.”
Some Facts extracted from the above
- In Excess of 6 million students are currently in online courses as part of their higher education program
- Almost half of all students enrolled in online courses are educated exclusively through distance education
- 85% of students think that online learning is the same or better than the traditional classroom experience
So, why are more and more students preferring to study online? K12 schools and home schooling is common in the US, and rather than the poor it is the well to do families that prefer this mode of education for their children. Moreover, the recent attack of pandemic has made studying online mandatory. But questions persists in our mind. Like, is online learning effective? Is it a valid qualification? What or how good are the study outcomes? What will happen to offline education? Will Schools and Colleges shut down? What is the Future?
To begin with, let us examine the benefits of Online Education.
- Flexibility to Organize the Time – Balance of Work and Education.
Online learning does not actually mean any time anywhere school or college. It rather gives the student a unique way to plan Work and Study. Online LMS offers multiple choices of Live Lectures, Recorded Lectures and Online Practice Tests. The assignments and coursework is also to be submitted online, allowing for a leeway needed to do more with your time. But adequate research must be undertaken to understand the requirements of course properly and see that how various components allow/disallow time flexibility.
- Less Tuition Fees
Take a look at the top notch online courses offered by many of the top universities across the globe and notice the Cost/Fees of the program. You will notice that in most cases the fees are drastically low for the online programs, so much so that it comes to 25%-40% of the Offline Course. Reasons? Economics of operation. The university/college/school has to incur lower operational costs. And for some online LMS universities/institutes the capital investment is just a fraction of the costs involved at instituting a proper campus based learning facility.
Other cost savings include free/low-cost Learning Material like E-Textbooks, Free online digital resources. Governments, in most of the countries also offer scholarships and Fee aid for online courses too.
- Homely Learning Environment – Your Room/Individual Space is your Classroom.
Students who have enrolled for an online study program, can complete coursework at home, a coffee shop, a library or even while on the go in a bus, train or flight. Students can work in the environment that best suits them. But some requirements must be fulfilled like a good smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop; and not to forget a reliable, uninterrupted and high speed internet connection and no or manageable distractions (background noise). Another factor to consider is space and study needs like table space for a desk top and to make notes.
- Completion Time Frame
There are three terms that can define the Completion Time.
1.‘Asynchronous’, refers to a course without Live Lectures/Scheduled Meetings. Students complete work at convenient times but must still meet assignment deadlines. This will entail fixed completion time of the course as the student cannot complete a module till the assignments are not released by the administrator and thereafter completed by the student. But schedules are faster than offline courses.
- ‘Synchronous’, which is the opposite of asynchronous. Mirroring on-campus courses, synchronous online courses maintain ‘Fixed’ times for lectures over Zoom or other video conferencing apps. The Assignments, coursework and even online Examination (with video surveillance) are pre scheduled and completion times also mimic offline/on campus times.
- ‘Accelerated’, or ‘Fast Track’ are the courses of less than 16 weeks. Courses with the same academic requirements but lesser time. Such programs offer the fastest course completion times.
Many online learning platforms offer a mix of the above also offering the best of both.
- Access from any corner of the Globe
A big vantage point of online education is ease of attending classes from any place provided connectivity is available. Almost all of the world’s top colleges and universities offer online degrees and certificates, meaning that learners do not have to relocate to attend a top ranking university. No Passport or Visa is needed. No need to spend on travel and relocation. Study at reduced cost and save on the expenses, as the cost of living among different cities can vary greatly.
Besides saving huge funds you can also live with/closer to family and friends, thus get protected from cultural shock and loneliness and associated emotional trauma. These advantages of online classes can lead to greater emotional well-being and less stress.
- Continue with Current Job/Business/Profession and still take benefit of Career Advancement
An outcome of the point discussed above, online courses lets the learner continue with his/her current occupation and earn a degree along with getting two significant advantages of online classes related to career advancement. First, a certificate or degree can qualify an employee for a raise. Second, some companies restrict management-level positions to employees who possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Besides tangible career benefits, most online degrees and certificates also allow learners to continue working while they study. Students can work during the day and complete coursework in the evenings or on the weekends. Additionally, learners who work can apply new knowledge and skills to their job immediately.
- Gain Technical Know-How
Learning online can help students obtain new technical skills they need on the job; like the ability to use new software suites, perform in-depth research online, and communicate effectively online in various formats such as discussion boards and teleconferencing. Employers often demand these skills as more and more positions require employees to work remotely. Students can also add new skills to a resume and discuss them during a job interview.
Is it ‘Easier’ than traditional on-campus programs?
The rigours and hard work of the course and the professors’ expectation are the same while studying online and the assessment regime apply equally to on-campus and online learners. The winning stroke is that online courses prepare students for their future just as well as on-campus courses. On top of this, almost all of the ‘Accreditation Agencies’ evaluate online courses and approve only the best ones.
Students feel less challenged in online study and evaluation due to many psychological reasons. Home environment is a known environment, there is no peer pressure, there is no bullying and competition is health. This phenomenon also occurs due to the advantages of online education that include academic and career flexibility, cost savings, and less stress when scheduling courses. Another reason that can make online courses feel easier occurs if the courses’ format aligns with students’ learning style and academic support needs, such as virtual tutors and career advising sessions. Satisfying this personal preference can make for a more enjoyable experience and improve educational outcomes.
What about ‘Accreditation’?
Accreditation is approval and recognition of certificates/degrees by a governing or designated organization. These agencies audit the Human Resources (Academic as well as Non-Academic Staff), teaching process, Quality of Teaching Outcomes and the facilities as well as feedback from past students (the Alumni).
Online Courses and certificate/degree Programs are accredited in a similar fashion but with extra measures. There is a greater scrutiny of processes and outcomes. So if the online program claims accreditation check and cross check the validation of such a claim and take a judicious decision.
Conclusion – The way ahead
Savour some of the Highlights from a KPMG report published way back in 2017 when there was no impact of the current pandemic:
- India’s online education market is set to grow to USD 1.96 billion and around 6 million users by 2021 from USD 247 million and around 1.6 millionusers in 2016
- Industry overview:
- Reskilling and online certifications is the largest category today at USD 93 million
- Primary & secondary supplemental education will be the largest category by 2021 at USD 773 million, growing at a CAGR of 60%
- Test preparation will be the fastest growing category in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 64%
- India’s online students:
- Perceive convenience, flexibility with commencement dates and variety of study material are key motivational factors to adopt online channel
- Cite peers and internet search as the top two sources of brand awareness
- Indicate quality of course content as the top reason for selecting a specific brand
- Prefer laptops over mobile phones for accessing the course content
The current pandemic has given a tremendous boost to online education, so much so that now some parents do not want their children to attend regular school, but it is the career oriented college goers that are suffering as the all-important group activities have been excavated from their life leading to a vacuum. The future of socializing is changing and so is the workplace. In that light learning online will soon become norm and we are definitely moving to an education sphere where online learning will become an integrated part of the Tertiary and Higher Education Sector.