Kelli White Mellish
Online Learning – The Future Of Education
Improvements in the communication and information technologies such as the invention of the internet and the World Wide Web have enabled people to communicate from distant places. Due to these technologies, students can now earn their education from universities abroad and interact with foreign teachers even if they live in the opposite side of the globe. Due to the time demanding lifestyle of today`s civilization more and more people are favoring online education. Based from the article written by Tamar Lewin, entitled, “Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls,” there has been a dramatic increase in the number of students favoring online education since the past few months of the year 2012 (1). The main reason behind this sudden increase in the number of online students is the improvement in Google`s search engine which allows access to numerous academic sources as well as the increase in the number of educational institutions which engages in online teaching (Lwen 3). Lewin further explained in the article that there are some institutions that offer online education for free, which allowed students who were less fortunate to have access to highly competitive schools on their local area. Aside from this, online education is perceived to be more flexible, more time and cost efficient, and more likely to improve education quality. Despite the fact that online learning inhibits direct personal contact between the teacher and the student and the preparation of lesson plan is more time consuming, online education will be the future of education because of its flexibility, time and cost efficiency, and its ability to improve education quality.
Online education offers flexibility to students. Accordingly, many working students may find it hard to attend classroom classes due to their shifting schedules at work. Online education usually offers 24/7 learning schedule, hence they can accommodate students who have varying work schedules. Online learning also offers flexibility in courses offered. Accordingly, there is an array of choices of educational institutions that offer different courses from which each online student can choose from. Further, online education provides flexibility in location. Most educational institution offers their courses to be accessible on different places all the time, hence students can study while they are on a vacation or during work breaks. Furthermore, online education is available to all levels of education (except pre-school), including those who want to take summer classes. In a study conducted by Scott Johnson, Steven Aragon, and Najmuddin Shaik, entitled, “Comparative Analysis of Learner Satisfaction and Learning Outcomes in Online and Face-to-Face Learning Environments” they have surveyed students who have shifted from traditional learning to online learning. Results from their study showed that one of the major reasons for the shift was flexibility in schedule (30).
Online education is also cost efficient for students. Unlike in traditional education, the student would have to obey the time schedule of the educational institution where he or she is enrolled. Rumble Greville offered a definition for cost efficiency through which it is possible to quantify the cost efficiency of online education or e-learning. Accordingly Grevilled explained:
Efficiency is the ratio of output to input. A system is cost efficient if, relative to another system, its outputs cost less per unit input. A system increases its cost efficiency when it maintains output with less than proportionate increase in inputs. Efficiency can conveniently be divided into two components: allocative efficiency, [which] is concerned with the allocation of given resources between alternative uses in was that maximize social welfare [and] x-efficiency, [which] is concerned with producing more output without any change in the allocation inputs. It therefore focuses on inefficiencies such as overstaffing and managerial waste (35).
From this definition of cost efficiency, Tor Atle Hjeltnes and Borje Hansson made an assessment of the cost efficiency of online education or e-learning by conducting an online survey and a review or related works. They have shown in their study that cost efficiency can be studied in three perspectives: from society`s perspective, from the educational institution`s perspective, and from the student`s perspective. On all these perspectives, there were advantages noted for online education. For example, from the society`s perspective, online education offers more courses than traditional education. In other words, online education is highly efficient distributing information or educating the majority of the members of the society. This is because of the proliferation of the computer and the improvement of access to the internet. Hjeltnes and Hansson explained that these technologies allow easy access to learning materials and also cost less compared to the cost of going personally to school institutions. In a more particular example, in traditional education, students would always need to go physically to educational institutions. This means they would have to pay for their fare. While it may be more costly to enroll for an online course, the total amount of resources spent on online education will be lower than traditional education. Because the internet uses the wireless technologies, geographical barriers are also being overcome. Today, even those people living in isolated areas or rural areas can gain access to online education with the tips and taps of their fingertips. From the educational institution`s perspective, while it may be costly to establish a system of hardware and software, it is still less costly in the long run because the cost of maintaining the hardware and software by paying Information Technology professionals is still lesser than in maintaining traditional school facilities. Moreover, in the creation of educational materials, duplication of materials can be avoided, which again makes online education more cost efficient compared to traditional education. Accordingly, duplication of materials among schools on certain educational materials due to their proximities and lack of collaboration is avoided on online education. In online education collaboration between schools and school branches is made much easier and faster, hence allowing the exchange and sharing or educational materials. There no group of people more impacted by online education than the people with disabilities. Accordingly, the need to travel has made this group have less privilege to acquire education in the traditional education, because mobility is their disadvantage. With online learning they can easily gain access to education. Parents of such students will no longer need to expend extra resources for sending their disabled students to schools. The latter can easily obtain education in the comforts of their own homes (Simon and Gupta 35). One of the cases presented by the Lambda Solutions, which is a research and educational institution providing online learning support to people with disabilities, was that the student named Crystal:
I have become more direct, stronger, and less fearful,” says Crystal, who has had to deal with a brain injury, learning disabilities, mental illness, asthma and chronic pain. She is learning new skills through training on Moodle. My feelings about finding work have changed. This program has given me more confidence and determination to never give up (1).
Whether online education can indeed improve the quality of education, is still under debate, as no substantial experimental results have been published and recognized. Nevertheless, there are numerous studies which show that such is the case: online education improves education quality. An example of such study was conducted by Matthew Prineas and Marie Cini, entitled, “Assessing Learning in Online Education: The role of technology in improving student outcomes. In this study they have used an assessment method called “Learning Outcome Assessment,” or LOA in order to gauge the capacity of online learning in improving the quality of education. Accordingly, there was an overall increase in the quality of education, mainly because online education uses advanced technologies in assessments of what the student knows. They have explained in their study that teachers can assess the students` learning outcomes much easier and faster. The student can be provided with such assessment for them to review and for teachers to make plans on resolving discrepancies on what the students should have learned to what it is actually learned. In other words, online education is closing the gap between learning and assessment. Comparing this with the traditional education, it was conclusive that in the traditional methods of teaching, the teacher spends more time working with pen and paper and non-standardized assessment tools in evaluating what the student have learned in a timely and efficient manner (13 – 14). In a study conducted by Debbie Johnson, Michael Burnett, and Peggy Rolling, entitled, “Comparison of Internet and traditional classroom instruction in a consumer economics course,” they have shown that information contained on online education materials are more up to date than the education materials used in traditional education. They have explained that the reason behind this difference is that, since in online learning the educational materials are mostly editable via computers, it is much easier to update them with the current information about particular topics. They further explained that in education, some materials need to be consistently updated, and the updating process is relatively harder for traditional education as it uses printed materials such as books. Therefore, not only can fast information update is possible on a relatively shorter period of time, but it can also be done much cost efficiently. Because of the up to date knowledge that students could acquire through online education, they are also more globally competitive than those who have undergone the traditional way of learning (Johnson, Burnett, and Rolling 349).
There are not as many disadvantages compared to advantages in online learning. Accordingly, the disadvantage of online learning greatly depends on the student. That is, in online education, there is no way to make sure that the students are the ones doing their assignments. For example, the teacher could give as many assignments as the student needs, but the student can simply ask other people to do them, pass them to the teacher, and the teacher has no idea that the works submitted by the students are not really from him or her. In other words, the student`s integrity plays a crucial role in the success of online education. Students with poor study habits will most likely find no benefit from online learning. There may also be disadvantage in not meeting the teachers in online education face to face. Note that education necessitates an efficient communication between students and teachers. In communication, verbal and non-verbal languages are used. While verbal languages are easily transmitted during the course of online communication, the non-verbal languages are not hence confusions could arise (Williams and Hllman 78). Montgomery College explained in their article entitled, “Ten Disadvantages on Online Courses,” that the lack of interaction between other students in online education can instigate feelings of isolation among students. This feeling of isolation then causes discomfort. The article explains:
In an online course, no one can hear you scream. And that causes discomfort for some online students. Studying alone with only the computer as your companion can be terrifying. There`s no whispering in the back of the room, no wise remarks from the peanut gallery, no commanding presence at the front of the classroom pleading for everyone to listen. The online environment is a much different atmosphere that takes some getting used to. Hopefully, your online instructor is sensitive to this problem and can help you overcome those feelings. In any case, you should be aware of them and seek help if they start to impede your studies. A quick e-mail to a classmate, your instructor or a counselor can help you feel better connected if the sense of community you seek is missing (paragraph 4).
Lastly, in online education, since the connection between students and teachers is done via the internet, weather and natural disasters can ruin the communication. Chikering and Gamson explained that slow internet connection can cause frustrations to students on accessing educational materials from databases (3 – 7).
As aforementioned, online education can have disadvantages. Nevertheless, these disadvantages can be mitigated through the application of the education theory for online learning. According to Randy Garrison and Martha Cleveland-Innes, in their research entitled, “Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction Is Not Enough,” the extensiveness of interaction between students and teachers in online learning is not enough to facilitate quality education. The design of interaction should be carefully modeled so that it will pose significant impact on the learning process. The structure of communication as well as the leadership provided by teachers and online educational institution leaders is crucial to the effectiveness of online education. According to the education theory for online learning, the learning process is composed of different stages and levels there are multiple factors that affect each stage there should a mechanism to monitor the progress of the learner, and mitigation or contingency measures should be part of designing the learning program. Figure 1 shows the factors that need to be considered in creating and implementing a learning program.
Levels of Interaction:
oo Learner to learner
oo Learner to teacher or instructor
oo Learner to expert
Stages of Learning:
Technologies and other resources for online learning of education:
oo Software and hardware
oo Human resources e.i. Teachers and IT personnel
Online Education Program
Figure 1: Factos to consider in creating an effective Online education program based from the education theory for online learning (Garrison and Cleveland 145)
From figure 1, it can be observed that there are numerous factors that should be considered in making online learning more efficient in educating online students. While it was mentioned in the disadvanatges that students often feel isolated during online classes, an online education program can be designed so that it allows the interaction between students, between students and teacher, and between students and experts. This way, the student will have extensive socialization and while socializing, the students learn. In order to do this, appropriate software and hardware are necessary, as well as the full partcipation of online teachers and IT professionals hired by the school. Moreover, in creating the education curriculum, online school administrators should always consider the levels of learning for their students. They may, for example, conduct regular realtime diagnostics exams for their students to assess whether they are progressing through the levels of learning. In other words, online learning should be made an active process. Learners should have continuous engagement on activities that aim to help them personalized meaning about the subject being discussed (Anderson 14).
This research has discussed the advantages and disadvantages of online learning. It has also discussed the application of education theory in creation online learning programs in order to mitigate the disadvantages. From the previous discussions it can be concluded that online education will indeed become more popular and used or adapted extensively in the future with consideration to the change in the lifestyle of modern people, aside from the fact that is more flexible, time and cost efficient, and it has the ability to improve education quality. Moreover, it is concluded in this research that several improvements in the interactivity of online education should be improved. These improvements should be made in light on the application of education theory for online teaching.
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Kelli White Mellish