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Online Learning

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Thousands of colleges, universities and corporations around the world offer online courses and degrees. Education is available anywhere, anytime. It is predicted that by 2005, 90 percent of American universities will offer at least one course online. While course content leans toward business and technology, other areas are growing, such as education and psychology. An interesting survey of online programs in education, among other disciplines, was reported in the Oct. 15, 2001, issue of U.S. News & World Report. It lists 43 regionally accredited colleges and universities that provide graduate programs in education online, including courses in special education, curriculum instruction, educational leadership, etc. The information presented includes number of degrees offered, year the program began, on-campus visits, required hours of technical help, maximum number of students, learning technologies used, access speed required, and per credit charge. Please click here to view the list of schools. Note: You must have Adobe Acorbat Reader installed on your computer to view this file.

The number of online high school courses has also increased. Most offer those courses to supplement the available high school program. Online high schools are being considered or are operating in a number of states, including Massachusetts, Kentucky, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan. The Florida Virtual School is one of the better known high schools. In its fifth year, the state-funded school enrolls approximately 3,500 students in regular, honors and Advanced Placement courses. The school's motto is "Any time, any place, any path, any pace."

The Worldwide Expansion of E-Learning

E-learning is expanding worldwide. It is estimated that corporate training will grow from $2.2 billion to $18.5 billion by 2005. Due to shrinking budgets and decreased interest in travel, meetings and training sessions, which depend on airplane flights, hotel reservations and time away from home, are being replaced by e-learning. Since Sept. 11, use of video and Web-based classroom conferencing have greatly increased. For example:

 

- Cisco Systems uses e-learning to work with its sales force. At the recent Comdex meeting, Cisco's CEO, John Chambers, stated "e-learning is the next killer application."

- McDonald's trainers logon to Hamburger University for additional training and updated information.

- Circuit City, with its 600 stores and approximately 50,000 employees, uses customized courses that they say are "short, fun, flexible, interactive and instantly applicable on the job."

 

More collaboratives are being formed between business and academia to use e-learning for specialized graduate-level courses for employees seeking advanced degrees. For example, Microsoft is working with Oregon Health and Science University's OGI School of Science and Engineering so employees can obtain a master's in software and technology management. In addition, IBM and the University of Texas offer a master's in technology commercialization.

One of the biggest providers of e-learning is the Army's virtual university for enlisted soldiers, which offered online college courses to more than 12,000 students in 2001. The five-year $453 million e-learning program started in January 2001 to help soldiers achieve academic degrees while they serve. It is in operation at Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Fort Hood, Texas. Additional installations are planned for this year, which will allow soldiers to complete their coursework while stationed in countries such as Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany and Singapore.

A number of reasons can be attributed to why e-learning has become a mainstream activity engaged in by most countries, practically all educational institutions and a large number of corporations. These include:

- Increasing demand for equitable education for everyone;

- Providing education for those whose needs can not be met by the formal educational process;

- Establishing sufficient physical locations for learning are difficult, due to the increase of the world's population;

- Desire for nations to be involved in e-learning and compete with other nations; and

- Additional sources of revenue which are anticipated.

Finding Success in E-Learning

However, not all programs are economically successful, even though universities and corporations are investing large amounts of money for curriculum development and presentation strategies. Online learning requires more instructor time per student than classroom learning. A number of for-profit e-learning institutions have found they must either charge more or provide an inferior product. United States Open University recently announced it might close in June 2002, because it d'es not have enough students to meet its increasing expenses. This sister school of The Open University in the United Kingdom, had formed partnerships with a number of community colleges; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Indiana University to provide programs that would lead toward a master's in information systems and a bachelor's in business education. Successful e-learning programs have succeeded because of the following reasons:

 

- They satisfy a real need. Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania says its online midwifery course is in demand around the world.

- Good research, financial support and extensive marketing. The Open University of Hong Kong, using the U.K.'s model, attributes its success to an open-access policy, a large range of programs, emphasis on curriculum development, program planning and quality assurance, credit transfers, a provision for student support, research activities, and international outreach and collaboration. Learners outside of Hong Kong are located in Great Britain (57 percent), Australia (31 percent), the United States (7 percent), China (4 percent), as well as Macau and Ireland.

- Almost all revenues come from student fees. Capital expenses such as buildings, labor and electronic libraries are provided by the government. Large endowments from business and commercial organizations are ongoing.

These online programs must also consider the following:

1. The need for interaction is imperative. Courses with little interaction have high drop-out rates. E-mail, chat rooms and discussion boards remove the feeling of isolation and provide opportunities for discussion.

2. Instructors who know how to interact online with students, and are willing to give the time and effort involved, are successful. Too many students in any online activity destroy the relationship required between instructor and student. Also, responding to a great deal of e-mail almost becomes an impossibility. There is a need for professional development for online instructors.

Dr. Trudy Abramson, professor of computer technology in education at Nova Southeastern University's Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences in Florida says: "Postsecondary educators are not required to undergo a teacher education process." Therefore, doctoral courses on online learning environments and instructional delivery programs, including the process of teaching and learning online, are offered at Nova University.

3. Cost is a factor. Online learning can be expensive. Tuition may cost as much, if not more than its on-campus counterparts.

Conclusions

E-learning is not a passing fad. Students indicate online courses can be as effective and even better than campus courses. Arizona State University, in comparing test results of online MBA students with those in the campus program, found online students scored higher. However, the outlook for e-learning institutions to make money is still to be proven.

Generally, graduate university and corporate e-learning programs are successful and are expanding. We do not have sufficient evidence on the value of e-learning for undergraduate and high school students. It is noted that e-learning d'es offer courses not available on campus with many more choices for learners. E-learning opportunities will continue to grow. And for some learners, it may be the only option. However, e-learning can not duplicate what is effective in the classroom. It allows learning which may not be possible otherwise and fills a real need, especially where quality material is available.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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