What Should You Look For In Your Online Education?
by TeachThought Staff
The rapid evolution of technology is changing everything, and education is no exception. Cumbersome card catalogs went extinct as almost instantaneous access to research materials became available, apps and electronic tablets are replacing easily outdated workbooks, and edtech is a portmanteau with its own trending hashtag.
And technology isn’t only infiltrating classrooms — it’s becoming them. The creation of online learning spaces makes everything from virtual kindergarten to professional development possible from anywhere in the world, and the popularity of online education continues to increase as technology advances.
In fact, in many areas online learning isn’t just an option, it’s a requirement. States including Arkansas, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama all require students to participate in at least one online class in order to graduate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
So, while lecture halls are unlikely to be completely replaced with chat rooms, an eventual marriage of the two is not only possible but probable.
Flexibility: One of the primary selling points of online education is the ability to work at your own pace and to cover material at whatever time works best with your schedule. Particularly when it comes to continuing education or college courses, being able to attend class on your lunch break or even in the middle of the night makes the time investment involved with going back to school possible for many.
Cost: Due to lower overhead, online education is often more affordable than school in a traditional setting. Online educators can offer tuition rates up to five times less than other institutions, making it possible to graduate with a degree without a mountain of student loan debt to go with it.
Independence: The format of most virtual learning options encourages and requires independent thinking while also providing the benefit of group discussions and feedback. Students learn the importance of self-motivating and problem-solving while still having the support of the teacher and other students.
Choosing the Right Program
Seek Quality: Although the quality of education can leave a lot to be desired in both brick and mortar classrooms and in virtual learning spaces, it’s particularly important to find an accredited and established online program when it comes to long-distance learning. Check reviews from other students, ask about on-time graduation rates, and inquire about options for both technical support and teacher availability.
Check Course Catalog: Obviously, the most important factor is making sure the program you’re interested is available, but also make sure it’s both accredited and of good quality, as mentioned above. Ask what textbooks are used — are they up to date and reputable? Do the professors have experience or knowledge in the subjects they teach? Is there a past syllabus you can take a look at? Are course credits transferrable to other schools?
Consider Communication: Without the physical presence of an instructor and a classroom full of like-minded students, it can be difficult to exchange ideas or initiate the types of conversation that inspire new ideas or greater understanding. How is the learning management system structured? Are there interactive lessons, class discussions, or a sense of community? Make sure whatever’s offered aligns with your personal learning style.
Just like education isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, neither are the spaces where learning takes place. Advances in technology are making education more accessible to a wider audience at a lower cost and it’s hard to argue with the inherent benefits of that. Deciding if an online education is right for you requires an honest look at your schedule, personality type, learning style, and educational goals but anything — including a graduate degree — is possible these days, thanks to technology.