Most learning professionals agree that live, interactive classroom instruction is generally preferable to an educational diet restricted to online courses. A live classroom environment gives students the opportunity to ask questions of an experienced teacher, enables them to collaborate with and learn from their fellow students, and provides invaluable social interaction that helps them develop into mature, thinking adults.
That said, online courses have a clear role to play in today’s educational settings. Online courses can supplement standard classroom instruction or serve as a means for non-traditional students, such as working professionals or students limited by distance or financial status, to have the opportunity to learn as well.
Read on for more benefits that online courses and independent learning provide.
Go beyond the standard curriculum
Printed textbooks and handouts provided at the beginning of each school year are inflexible by nature and may even provide out-of-date information. When used in conjunction with online courses and digital tools, however, these static materials become launching pads for knowledge acquisition, enabling students to tap into the vast array of information available on the internet.
This combination of in-class learning and online technology is called “blended learning” and many experts consider it the educational gold standard. Indeed, studies have shown that having students watch interactive online videos, which are often more engaging than standard lectures, can help improve knowledge retention by up to 60 percent.
One of the most powerful benefits of online courses is that they enable students to learn at the time, place, and pace that best suits their individual learning style. Don’t like to get up early for classes? Start your online classes at noon when you’re awake and raring to go. Taking a difficult class with lectures and materials that need a significant amount of review? With online courses, you can watch lectures several times, or even listen at a slower recording speed. If there is a class discussion, you can take time to gather your thoughts rather than be in a race to get the teacher’s attention. For many students, asynchronous learning, or learning online on their own, provides a better way to avoid classroom distractions, absorb material fully, and keep educational goals on track.
Online courses not only enable students to learn at their preferred time, place, and pace, but also, when paired with advanced software platforms, these courses and tools can deliver personalized, adaptive learning. In traditional K-12 classrooms, students are grouped together by age, not ability, and it’s common for some students to be more or less advanced than others. One way to level-up slower students and ensure that advanced learners stay engaged is to use online tools that adapt to the needs of each student. AltSchool, for example, a startup school for kids pre-K through eighth grade, uses customized technology to track student progress and engagement in minute detail. Each week, students receive an individual learning “play list” with multiple items to complete, ranging from using an educational iPad app to watching an instructional video.
A boon for non-traditional students
Online courses can be of tremendous help to non-traditional students, such as working professionals, or students who live too far from a university campus or cannot afford the high cost of traditional education. Before online courses were readily available these students simply would not have been able to achieve their educational goals.
More, as online education has become increasingly widespread and digital learning technologies more advanced, the overall quality of online education has improved as well. As a result, many employers consider digital certifications for online degrees and skills-based courses as significant indicators of learning and professional achievement.
Removing barriers – and adding revenue streams
As online courses have provided expanded educational access for students, so too have they opened up new revenue streams for colleges and universities. For example, a teacher can now lecture to a single class comprised of students attending either in person or watching and interacting virtually from a digital device.
In this scenario, the number of potential enrollees is significantly larger than an in-class-only environment. School administrators facing budgetary constraints may want to explore this approach yet must be sure to weigh the benefits of any additional revenue with the possible learning costs associated with larger class size.
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