An Overview of Online Education: Attractiveness, Benefits, Challenges, Concerns and Recommendations

Article excerpt

Online education has grown tremendously over the past ten years. The increased accessibility of the internet and the World Wide Web has created vast opportunities for non-traditional education through this medium (Karber, 2003). The explosion of technology has also made teaching outside the traditional classroom possible for teachers and has also provided learners with easy access to course material. This paper reviews literature related to online education. Its attractiveness, benefits, and challenges are addressed. Some concerns and recommendations are further discussed.

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In April, 2005, I attended the annual professional conference of the American Counseling Association in Atlanta, Georgia. While setting up our display to promote our masters and doctoral programs in counseling at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), I was approached by a counseling student who was interested in our doctoral program. However, the first question out of her mouth was nothing related to counseling; rather, it was, "Do you offer any online courses?" Later that day, as I was reading the conference program guide trying for interesting presentations, I could not help but to notice a number of workshops on web-based learning and/or online education. I subsequently attended two of those workshops and met several professors from different universities who had either taught online courses for quite some time or who were currently discovering the best practices for teaching online. These experiences helped me realize at least to some extent the degree of growth in online education.

My responsibilities for the semester included gaining more understanding of online education. Consequently, I made several attempts to enrich my knowledge of distance learning and online teaching. Perhaps, the five things that I share at this point will help others who are embarking on online teaching. First, I consulted with my colleagues who are currently teaching online courses. This helped me recognize the importance of getting materials prepared even before the start of a semester. I also learned that online courses may consume more time than regular classroom teaching. I understood the importance of learning the technology, knowing the technology, and feeling comfortable with it. Second, I attended several workshops regarding online education and established a network with those who are involved in online programs at other universities. These people I will consider as my consultants and support as I begin to design my own online course. Third, I talked with the employees in the division of computer services at SHSU, and I set up biweekly Blackboard training for not only myself, but also for other faculty members of the department. Fourth, I conducted a brief survey with 15 students and two faculty members who had taken or taught an online course before to understand their experience. Fifth, I completed a literature review which gave me the foundation and the background of understanding the need for online education. This paper is the result of the literature review which attempts to explore and understand different areas of online education.

Review of Literature

The Popularity of Online Education

The increased accessibility of the internet and the World Wide Web has created vast opportunities for non-traditional education through this medium (Karber, 2003). The explosion of technology has also made teaching outside the traditional classroom possible for teachers and has also provided learners with easy access to course material (Coyner & McCann, 2004).

Online education has grown tremendously over the past ten years. One report by Singh and Pan in 2004 showed that over 54,000 online courses were offered by universities in the U.S. with over 1.6 million student enrollment in 2000. Another survey from the United Stated Education Department, as cited by Lyons (2004), stated that the enrollment for distance education courses grew from 750,000 in 1994-1995 to 2. …