Plan For College

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Examining Online Colleges: Friend or Foe?

The Plan For College Guest Blog Post Series: Debbie Lawrence is a content editor and writer for the Online Schooling Blog. You can reach her at dlawrence2 [@] quinstreet.com with any questions and comments.
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The rise in modern technology has enabled millions of individuals to access free information on the worldwide web. Nowadays, we use such terms as “google it” as a reference for looking up a definition or explanation of something that we did not know already. World knowledge has become dependent upon the content published online, and the global audience has become a dominant feature for various businesses and schools in developing their outreach efforts.

Many accredited colleges, such as University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, Arizona State University, and Walden University to name a few, all have renowned online education programs that offer a variety of online degrees. Programs range from obtaining your ESL (English as a Second Language) certificate to go teach abroad to achieving a healthcare degree in nursing.

Colleges and universities are augmenting their online education space in order to accommodate the modern student, someone who is working a full-time job (or two) and interested in obtaining a degree or advancing the degree they have already earned. Citing a story from eLearners in “Project Working Mom,” Jeanne S. succeeded in obtaining her associates degree online amid the various personal conflicts that she encountered during her course-load, and continued to achieve her bachelor degree in business from Bellevue University’s online program. This demonstrates the enthusiasm and promise of online education as the new alternative for higher education options.

There are many reasons why online education appeals to individuals, besides the obvious convenient location factor.

Pros of Distance Learning
  • The 24 hour/7 days a week classroom: Many individuals have more than one job in today’s pressing economy. The 24/7 classroom setting enables students to work on their studies and access their course work when they are available. 
  • A virtual library classroom: While already online, students have easy access to a variety of resources on the web that s/he may use for research in their coursework and studies. The web serves as a virtual library for students who do not have to rely on hard-copy books to supply their information. 
  • Focus on student’s content and individual progress:  Anonymity in the classroom eliminates discriminatory factors and allows students and teachers to focus on the student’s content and progress. By focusing on the content, students are able to recognize their individual strengths and weaknesses. Simultaneously, teachers are able to stay focused on the content and have no biases on individual students based on appearances or similarities. Anonymity in the classroom also allows students to fully engage in the virtual classroom and not be intimidated by peers and classmates with their comments. Again, the focus remains solely on the content and allows individual students to get thorough feedback from their fellow peers and teachers and gauge their progress regularly. 
  • It is very environmentally-friendly! With online coursework and the variety of mobile and hand-held tech gadgets, students are able to view documents, read textbooks, upload essays and assignments, comment on peer’s work, and communicate with the teacher, all online. No need for paper wasting habits here, and instead they practice environmentally friendly habits.
  • Advancing degrees and opportunities: the transformation of communication technologies has enabled distance learning to become a more dominant source in the higher education space. Individuals who have already obtained some form of degree or accreditation and want to advance their degree further easily choose online colleges as many have already started working and have limited time to become a full-time student. 

Cons of Distance Learning
  • Limited access to resources for some students: As online education is dependent upon computers and software programs, students must have easy access to either a personal or public computer in order to access and upload their work. 
  • Technical Difficulties: Students and teachers must be computer literate to operate and manage the software programs. Training can always be offered but it can be pricey and if some students don’t know the basics about computers, than it can really hinder their progress in coursework. Moreover, students and teachers must be able to manage technical difficulties and be able to navigate towards a solution to fixing the problems. There lies an inevitable moment ahead with every software program that will encounter technical difficulties, and maneuvering around them is a skill some people have and others learn. 
  • Must be a self-disciplined student: Since there lacks a tangible classroom and no human figure to reinforce attendance and behavior, students must be self-disciplined in order to time-manage their course work and personal life. A student who needs constant supervision will have a harder time progressing through the course work without any guidance and can easily lose track of their individual development. Similarly, with no teacher figure present, there is no regulation of student’s work and it can be hard to determine whether or not a student is using outside help to complete their coursework. 
  • Combating online distractions: The variety of entertainment features online, including social networking sites, music and video stations and podcasts, and video games, continue to expand and provides students with abundant sources of distractions from their work. These kinds of distractions can hinder the quality of a student’s work, and without anyone reinforcing this, a student can easily deter away from their work and get behind in their classes. 
The ubiquity of e-learning continues to grow and become more appealing for students as an option for higher education. According to the U.S. Web-Based Education Commission, e-learning has now become a centerpiece for the nation’s education policy in order to cultivate the proper resources and further develop these programs in an official manner.


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