At Sophia Learning, we believe online education can help students learn in a more flexible and affordable way. And thanks to advancements in technology, online learning has become more accessible than ever before. But there are many benefits to an in-person education too. What are some of the key differences, and which mode of learning may be right for you?
We connected with our chief learning officer, Nick White, for more insights. Here’s what he had to share:
Q: First off, what is a “chief learning officer”—and what does your role with Sophia look like?
A: The role of Chief Learning Officer varies across organizations but the connecting thread is the understanding of how important learning is to all of us to be successful in our roles and realize our potential. In practice that means optimizing the learning function by making sure that the right learning is offered in the most effective and efficient way.
My career has been focused on creating and improving high quality online and competency-based courses and programs. That involves research on what works for students, integrating the best design practices and software, creating great learning content using various media, and designing the operations to deliver all of that for students.
So at Sophia, I support our very talented academic team to continue to improve what we provide to students. That includes new approaches to the learning experience, enhancements to our quality assurance processes, and examining data to generate new insights on how to keep improving.
And one of the most rewarding things I have the privilege of doing is conducting research on the outcomes of our students and sharing those results and stories with the world. We see great outcomes for Sophia students that we’ll be able to publish soon.
Q: Aside from modality, what do you think are the most important differences between online and in-person education?
A: Well the biggest difference is obviously that the students and professor are not in the same place. That can but doesn’t always lead to other differences. In online courses, people start to question the value of the in-person synchronous lecture. Why spend the time that way when it can be recorded? And that can lead to questioning the lecture. Why is that a better way to learn than text or other media? Ultimately, this tends to lead to a move away from passive lectures and toward more active learning in which the student is at the center instead of the professor.
Q: What are the top three pros to online learning?
A: The biggest benefits to online learning for most students are time, flexibility, and transparency. Students benefit from the lack of need for travel to and from a campus including time, transportation, parking, and so forth. With asynchronous online courses, students benefit from greater flexibility, they can work on the course at the times that are most convenient for them rather than a scheduled time. And because online courses need to contain all the necessary information, you can’t rely on discussion in the classroom, online courses tend to be more transparent about all of the expectations around what is needed to succeed and how the student will be evaluated.
Q: What does it take to be a successful online learner?
A: A successful online learner understands they are in charge of their own success. Because they have greater convenience, flexibility, and transparency, the students need to manage themselves to reach their goals. They do that by engaging at the beginning of the course to understand what they will need to do to succeed, creating a schedule for when they will do their coursework, and keeping to the commitments they have made to themselves. It also requires being proactive and seeking help if they run into any obstacles. Just like so many other endeavors in life, succeeding in an online course both requires confidence to get started and it builds confidence as the student moves through the course successfully.
Q: What are the challenges of online learning?
A: The challenges of online learning are essentially the flipside of the benefits. The flexibility and convenience can be a challenge for students that lack confidence or are reliant on weekly face-to-face classes to keep them on track. For some students, the social environment of a face-to-face classroom is important to their success. However, with our experience during the pandemic, nearly all students have experience with some type of online education so now most students are familiar with online and remote.
Q: Why might someone prefer taking courses with Sophia rather than in-person courses at a college or university?
A: For many students, the prospect of completing an undergraduate degree can be overwhelming in terms of both cost and time. Sophia provides an alternative that allows most motivated students the ability to save both time and money and to start their education with much greater momentum. In 2020 CAEL and WICHE published The PLA Boost, which is great research that shows that students that start college with significant credits from prior learning assessment, succeed in college at much higher rates.
Q: What questions should people ask themselves to determine if online learning is right for them?
A: There are some obvious questions about whether you have a reliable computer and internet connection and are comfortable using computers. But beyond that here are a few:
- Do you need face-to-face classes with a professor and other students to stay motivated to do the work?
- Are you committed to getting your degree? If you can make that commitment, you can create the structures and habits that will make you successful.
- Do you know how you will create the structures you need to be successful? How will you schedule your time? How will you stay motivated? How will you reward yourself when you achieve goals along the way?
- Will you seek help when you need it? You can’t let yourself get stuck because you’re not in a classroom, there are people whose job it is to help you be successful, it just requires you to reach out to resolve whatever confusion or challenge has arisen.
Q: How does Sophia support students remotely?
A: The most important thing Sophia does to support students is to make the courses and platform easy to use and navigate. Students generally don’t need support because of the great design. For cases where students do need support, we have a dedicated learning coach team that supports students through chat, email and phone to solve whatever issue they may be having.
Q: What is your favorite part about working for Sophia learning?
A: The most fun part is definitely the research on student outcomes, it’s wonderful to see how Sophia helps students be more successful and save time and money in the process.
In the world of education research, it’s surprisingly hard to find solutions that increase student success. But sometimes the solution is simple, if you create beautiful courses, remove barriers, and put control in the hands of the students, they can leap forward.