Online Learning Grows More Popular

By Columnist, Tom Regan | The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Online Learning Grows More Popular


Columnist, Tom Regan, The Christian Science Monitor


When I helped teach an online class four years ago for Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., I came away with mixed feelings.

Yes, it was cool teaching a class where the students were sprinkled across the United States. But it was difficult not seeing students face to face. And as convenient as it was to teach a course this way, having a discussion via software was not the same as the kind of interaction you get in a room full of students quickly feeding off one another.

Many of my students were older and had jobs during the day. Several of these students did the absolute minimum they needed to do in order to pass the course. And some of the other students told me later that it had been difficult not being able to sit down with the teacher one on one.

That was then. This is now.

With the spread of broadband technology and improved online teaching tools, students and teachers are finding online classes to be a more fluid and rewarding experience.

The use of Skype, an Internet-based phone service, for example has enhanced the teaching of foreign languages online. Yu-Hsiu Lee, a doctoral student in the Language Education Department of Indiana University, Bloomington, praised Skype for allowing anyone who wants to learn Chinese to have one-on-one instruction with a native speaker. Skype allows students to both see and hear the instructor on their computer screens, he wrote last week in the Skype Journal, a blog devoted to the evolution of Internet phone service. Unlike using a CD to learn a language, he says, Skype allows students to get instant feedback and to ask instructors specific questions.

Along with technological advances, more and more students are taking online classes. The 2007 Sloan Survey of Online Learning found that 1 in 5 higher education students is now taking at least one class online. In the fall of 2005, 3.18 million students were taking online courses; in the fall of 2006 (the last year for which statistics are available), it was 3.5 million. That's more than twice as many (1.6 million) as in 2002. The 9.7 percent annual growth rate for online enrollments from 2005-06 far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall higher education student population for that period, the survey finds.

Another study released last week reveals that a large percentage of middle and high school students are interested in taking courses online that aren't offered at their schools. This holds true for 47 percent of high school students and 32 percent of students in grades six to eight, according to the study by Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit education organization, for Blackboard, a provider of education software and services.

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