Higher education has had a standard format for decades – centuries even – that’s only begun to shift in the past few years. Around the same time that remote work became an option for certain careers – enabled by advanced technology for communication and collaboration – colleges and universities started to include more online learning in their curricula for distance learners.
Now, online certificates and degree programs are available at top institutions, and just as respected as the in-person counterpart, which legitimized online learning. While there may be some skepticism remaining, schools, professors, students, and parents are seeing the practicality and advantages of online learning as a nontraditional track to a degree.
The COVID-19 Paradigm Shift
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the world shut down practically overnight. Campuses had to close, disrupting millions of students’ education. Professors and students had to do their best with tools like Zoom or collaborative platforms and no real plan for how to translate their traditional learning into a remote model.
However, some higher education institutions were able to adapt immediately and offer all of their courses virtually, thanks to already having robust online education programs. The pandemic’s challenges were a demand to innovate, which forever influenced the way education will be delivered in the post-pandemic world.
After experiencing the benefits of online learning, more colleges and universities are making the move to offer more online learning courses, degree programs, certificate programs, and nontraditional options to suit the needs of a wide range of learners.
For those who are looking for a path outside of the linear, conventional move from high school directly to college, the rising popularity of online education allows more students to access education to earn or finish a degree, upskill, change careers, complete a certificate, and more. Older students, working adults, students with neurodiversity, and people from different cultural or language backgrounds were no longer restricted by the common barriers.
How Has Online Schooling Changed Education?
Though online learning can have similar formats to in-person courses, it’s generally more flexible. Courses may be asynchronous or self-paced, allowing the professor and the student to adjust the learning experience to their schedule.
For adult learners, this opens doors to new educational opportunities. Often burdened with work, family, and financial responsibilities, going back to school used to mean giving something up. Online learning makes it possible to balance the commitment of school with other priorities.
In many ways, education has never been more accessible than it is now. Students can attend schools all over the world with online programs, relieving them of geographic boundaries and commutes. The virtual classroom is available anywhere that has a strong internet connection.
There are also more options in terms of learning platforms, degree programs, and individual courses. Students can take general education courses for transfer credits, upskill with self-paced learning platforms, and take multiple courses at once with a subscription-based model.
Customized Learning Experiences
The flexibility in time and program structure with online learning allows students to adapt their learning experience to their needs and abilities – unlike traditional courses that have a set structure and pace.
Online courses tend to be smaller than traditional classrooms, facilitating better interactions between students and peers or professors. There’s also more diverse learning materials, including images, infographics, videos, ebooks, forums, discussions, and virtual labs, for a dynamic and tailored experience.
For students who struggle with certain topics, self-paced learning personalizes the way the information is learned and retained as well. Students can spend more time on challenging topics or courses – even repeating modules as needed – to ensure that they truly gain practical knowledge, not just a passing score. Similarly, students who have a natural aptitude for a subject or real-life experience can move through a course quickly to accelerate their degree schedule.
While the costs can vary, online education is often more affordable than traditional on-campus learning. There are different payment options as well, such as subscription models, installment payments, and integration with short-term loans to finance education.
Some schools or platforms offer individual courses, so students can get a jump on their degree while they save or can explore different areas of study before committing to a full program. Then, if they need to take a break to save more before another term or semester, they can do so without losing their place in the program.
In addition to the direct cost savings, online school can be more cost effective than attending school on a campus. School expenses aren’t just tuition, but extras like housing, meal plans, parking, on-campus amenities, and fees – all of which add up.
Diverse Learning Formats
Online learning is broad and encompasses diverse learning formats and types. Some universities and colleges offer synchronous online learning that mimics a classroom environment, while others embrace asynchronous online learning that lets the student set the pace.
Some courses are taught without direct interaction with a professor, instead relying on pre-recorded videos, discussions, and interactive elements that enhance the learning experience. Courses may incorporate innovative learning features like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), lab simulations, and gamification features that make education fun and engaging.
Students have a lot more variety in the courses themselves as well. It’s simpler for universities and colleges to set up online courses for more niche topics to expand their offerings. Some schools and learning platforms even offer courses that are just for personal development outside of a degree track, such as dog psychology, ethical hacking, music composition, and dance choreography.
Online Learning Is the Future
The benefits of online learning are far beyond this list, which may be why more and more students are pursuing online schools and courses over the traditional on-campus experience. While some students thrive in a classroom, online learning can be ideal for students looking for an alternative that’s affordable, convenient, and accessible.
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