Online learning, also known as electronic learning, distance learning, and online education, can be simply defined as technology assisted learning. The definition of online learning also depends on the context in which it is used. In most schools, online learning refers to a course or program where students study online and rarely, if ever, meet with each other or have access to physical campus facilities.
Online learning can easily begin as early as Kindergarten with sites like “Rich Kid, Smart Kid” (www.richkidsmartkid.com) that teach children financial intelligence and empowerment via games. While online learning shares the same goal as traditional classroom learning, to provide education, it differs in benefits, drawbacks, and methods.
Some major benefits and drawbacks of online learning are:
1a: Affordable quality education – While anyone can share or communicate education online, there are many credible organizations or institutions that offer education. In most cases, the instructors profile is provided along with the educational material to assure learners that the lessons they are about to receive are being taught by someone with the appropriate credentials. Also, the advancement of technology enables instructors to share information with students at a minimum cost.
1b: Credibility is king – However, since some instructors and classes do not transition well from traditional classrooms, it is up to you, the student, to perform due diligence in researching the teacher’s, and school’s, credentials to verify that you are indeed receiving the highest quality of education for your minimum cost.
2a: Environmentally-friendly – Since online learning takes place in a virtual environment, it promotes the reduction of both paper usage and travel, thus reducing overall carbon output.
2b: Self-isolation – Keep in mind though, if you’re a social butterfly, that peer interaction is very limited and you will not be able to have that complete “College Experience” of fraternities, sororities, sports, etc.
3a: Convenience and flexibility for students – Online learning is more convenient for students since it allows self-paced education. The learning sessions are usually made available 24×7, enabling a working individual to learn at their convenience.
3b: Sometimes too convenient – As long as you have all of the hardware, and software, requirements for your classes they can be quite convenient – sometimes too convenient. Ever heard of the “Sophomore Slump”? For those who require external motivation, a higher level of instructor interaction, or do not like to rely on computers you may want to seriously reconsider.
There are several methods used for online learning. Some of the more commonly used methods are:
1: CD-ROM or DVD. Some institutions or organizations provide instructional material via CD-ROM or DVD. While most of the lessons may be free, a student may have to pay a minimum fee to cover for shipping and handling.
2: Downloadable media. Some instructional materials come in the form of downloadable media – eBooks, audiobooks or even videos. This allows a student to choose their preference for learning the subject matter. Individuals who prefer to focus on “listening” and “watching” during lecture do not have to worry that they are missing important concepts while scrambling to take copious notes. They can focus on understanding the material and concepts as they are presented. Individuals with attention difficulties, or those who get overwhelmed by organizational tasks, also benefit since the grouping and preparation of materials provided indicate what items are most important. Educational fees for this type of method often vary in form from free downloads or nominal subscription fees to pay per download plans.
3: E-mail, blogs, wikis, or discussion boards. This allows a learner to exchange ideas or information without being dependent on other participant’s involvement. Each individual can view other’s answers and learn through the exposure to different perspectives. This benefits the learners because they can combine new opinions with their own, and develop a solid foundation for learning. Exchanging of ideas or sharing of information may be moderated — ranging from no moderation up to read-only.
4: Conference calls, online chat, or Web conferencing. The instructional material is socially constructed and allows the learners to interact with each other — providing an innovative new way for students to write and talk to one another.
There are also several incentives for online learning. Many higher education and for-profit institutions value degree or certification courses, like those offered at www.W3Schools.com. This encourages individuals to complete the course, giving them the necessary qualification to apply for a more advanced position in their company, while still maintaining their normal work hours. Some online learning sites offer cash or merchandise incentives for excelling in online assessments. Other incentives come in the form of reduced or discounted fees for early registrants or participants.
In summary, online learning can be defined as an approach to teaching and learning that utilizes Internet technologies to collaborate in an educational context. This includes technology that supplements, and often replaces, traditional classroom training with Web based components and learning environments where the educational process is experienced online.