Magazine article Momentum

ONLINE EDUCATION: Past, Present, and Future

Magazine article Momentum

ONLINE EDUCATION: Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

JOURNALIST AND COLUMNIST THOMAS FRIEDMAN was sitting onstage in a literal and figurative hot seat. Soaring spring temperatures had compromised the air conditioning in the Stanford University auditorium. The audience, more than 200 education writers from around the country, had some challenging questions for the noted New York Times columnist. A key topic of interest was online educationalso known as online learning, e-learning, or computersupported collaborative learning-and the growing global practice of offering courses electronically.

Friedman has written extensively on the topic and has noted, "Were moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency -in an online course, at a four-year college, or in a company-administered class - and more demand to prove that you have mastered the competency."

Online learning is expanding in popularity because of its benefits (Illinois Online Network, n.d.). Distance and schedule barriers that make in-person learning difficult are eliminated. An Internet connection allows students to participate in classes from any location-in fact, a computer is really not needed, with tablets, iPads, and even smart devices. Students have time flexibility and can access e-learning 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This enables those juggling work, family, and other responsibilities to do their coursework at convenient times and in convenient locations. An online class can include guest lecturers and class resources and materials physically located anywhere in the world. There's also an opportunity for dynamic interaction between the instructor and students, and among students as well. Participants benefit from a student-centered learning approach. Lower costs are another compelling advantage.

The Pioneer Years

Online education goes back to at least the 1960s, when scientists Daniel Alpert and Don Bitzer at the University of Illinois created a computer-based learning environment (Lepi, 2012). At first, users accessed more than 15,000 hours of lessons from a centralized one-room hub, but the system grew to provide online learning opportunities for more users in locations well beyond its original laboratory home.

Murray Turoff and Starr Roxanne Hiltz at the New Jersey Institute of Technology studied technology's information-spreading applications, including how it could shape education (Lepi, 2012). Their studies between 1976 and 1991 of the outcomes of online and computerized learning environments confirmed that they produce greater student engagement and higher test scores.

By the mid-1980s, many colleges were offering online access to course information and to student networking tools, and by the late 1980s, online-only courses. Correspondence schools started moving from a model of delivering training by mail to offering it online. In 1993, Jones International University, founded by cable magnate Glenn Jones, became the first online-only accredited university.

Today, many universities, community colleges, and digital correspondence schools offer full degrees or certificate programs online. Among the leaders in expanding online offerings are Ohio University, Stanford University, the University of Missouri, the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota and East Tennessee State University (OnlineColleges.org, 2012).

The offerings include classes and degrees-bachelors and postgraduate-in arts and humanities, business, computer technology, management, marketing, teaching, nursing and other health disciplines, and the sciences. Online certification programs are available in a variety of areas such as business management, certified public accounting, information systems, electronics, nutrition, training, gerontology, and environmental conservation.

A more recent development garnering media attention is Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. In addition to traditional course materials, MOOCs provide interactive user forums for students and instructors. …

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