Online Learning – How Does It Work

A Brief History of Online Learning

Online education, also known as distance learning or web-based learning, is not as new as you might think. The origins of distance learning can be traced back to a British man by the name of Sir Isaac Pitman.

In 1840, Pitman advertised a correspondence course in the penny press and within five years had 10,000 customers across the British Empire taking shorthand lessons by mail. By 1926, there was an established market for mail-order education in the United States, with some 300 private correspondence schools in operation.

Late in the century, distance education really took off as a result of emerging video and CD-ROM technologies. But it was the development of the Internet, a new universal medium of interaction, which really fueled the evolution of online education. E-learning is clearly here to stay – according to IDC, the U.S. corporate market for online learning is projected to grow from $6.2 billion in 2018 to $21 billion by 2023.

The Demand for Online Learning

The main drive behind the growth of online education is its nontraditional student body. The Internet is making it possible for students with families, full-time jobs or other responsibilities to earn a college degree without sacrificing the amount of time or money needed for a traditional brick-and-mortar degree. Just think of the Power of Tuition!

Online education allows working adults to enhance their professional skills sets without giving up their current jobs. Increasing numbers of corporations are also looking to the Web to meet basic employee-training needs. It used to be that education was something you pursued before you took your first full-time job, but in the new economy, learning is a lifelong enterprise. You also may consider teaching!
Online Learning Formats

Online education programs are generally offered in one of two main formats – synchronous or asynchronous. During a Synchronous class, all students “meet” at a predetermined time and are led through the lesson by a live instructor.

In this environment, students have the ability to collaborate in real-time, while the class takes place. They can interact with each other and privately with the teacher via online chat sessions and, in some cases, live video or audio conferencing.

Pros of Synchronous learning:

  • Allows for real-time interaction between students and between the teacher and students
  • Allows the teacher to adjust the class as needed if students are having difficulty with the lesson material
  • Allows teachers to give instant feedback on a students performance
  • Helps build an intimate relationship between teacher and student
  • Helps motivate the student to attend class and complete their work on time

Cons of Synchronous learning:

  • Requiring classes to meet a certain time may restrict the students to a certain time zone
  • The class is not self-paced
  • Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, does not require the attendance of a scheduled class
  • Students learn at their own pace and do not meet with other students on a scheduled basis
  • Students can interact, however, by using email and online discussion boards

Pros of Asynchronous learning:

  • Students have the flexibility of learning when it is convenient for them
  • Students learn at their own pace
  • Students around the world can take the same class without worrying about scheduling conflicts

Cons of Asynchronous learning:

  • Students may feel isolated in the learning process without interaction with other students and a teacher
  • Students may not have enough motivation to complete a class or a degree without having the structure of a fixed learning schedule
  • Online classes compensate for a lack of face-to-face classroom discussion by using an array of technical tools. Students communicate using e-mail, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and instant massaging.

Depending on the university you choose, you’ll be attending class in some type of virtual classroom derived from special e-learning software. These software programs integrate text chat and bulletin boards so that students and teachers all use the same methods of communication. Some may also include streaming audio and video. See also this post on brainstorming in early education.

Just as in a traditional class, students will be encouraged and often required to work in groups to solve problems. Teachers must also translate their traditional activities into web-based equivalents – internet office hours, checking on student progress by visiting bulletin boards and responding to student inquiries via email and online chat.