Online learning provides advantages to students and schools

Educators may need to rethink teaching strategies for the virtual classroom to fully engage students.

Online learning has presented significant advantages for both students and teachers. However, educators may have to rethink their strategies to take full advantage of virtual classrooms. According to a recent Phys.org article written by Dror Ben-Naim, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales, online education holds the opportunity to be more immersive than traditional approaches.

Ben-Naim said teachers have gone about teaching online courses much the same way they have their traditional courses, “delivering one-way lectures online, posting digital lecture notes and occasionally ‘innovating’ with quizzes.” The problem with this approach is it fails to leverage technology effectively. E-learning has the potential to increase interaction for better engagement. For example, the University of New South Wales develops virtual scenarios for students to practice diagnostic and clinical skills – probably a much safer option than letting students practice on real people!

“Australian universities are no exception. At UNSW, we’re starting to use an ‘adaptive e-Learning Platform’ – which allows students to learn exactly the same things they did in a conventional laboratory, but more conveniently and cheaply,” Ben-Naim wrote. “Teachers can now create their own lessons in interactive virtual worlds with different online scenarios.”

The benefits go beyond being cheaper for schools. The approach benefits students as well. Ben-Naim cites a survey which found a 56 percent improvement on standard exam scores after adopting adaptive e-learning in teaching microscopy techniques and which revealed 90 percent of students expressed an interest in using adaptive e-learning for other subjects.

At the end of the day, it’s all about doing more with less. Schools and universities face the challenge of having to cover more material and teach a larger variety of students … all while having a smaller budget to do it with. Online learning gives schools the advantage of being able to tailor experiences for the audience.

Online education for baby boomers

Investing in virtual classroom software may benefit schools in other ways, as well. Not only does online learning provide an affordable way to meet a wide range of educational needs, but it’s also a good way to reach people who have hectic schedules – and these days, who doesn’t?

A project by the University of California is using online education to meet the needs of baby boomers. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the courses utilizes the iPad to offer a full learning experience. For example, the mobile device’s built-in video chat feature allows for group discussions, and course activities can be added to the iPad’s calendar app.

“Empowered Careers last week began enrolling students in 10 certificate programs to be taught by instructors at the UCLA Extension, the continuing-education arm of the University of California, Los Angeles,” the article states. “The programs target areas – such as patient advocacy, health-care management and new media marketing – that are expected to generate job growth.”

It can be tough to balance education around work, hobbies and family. However, online learning programs like UCLA’s allow individuals to fit learning around their schedules. The WSJ also highlights comments from Cathy Sandeen, the dean of the UCLA Extension, who said it is difficult to reach people due to the fast pace of modern life – this makes it increasingly important for schools to find ways of tailoring education to meet diverse learner needs.

Would you take an online course? Are there any subject areas that would work better online vs. in a physical classroom?

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.