When it comes to education, online learning has become an increasingly popular choice for many students. Between the demands of family, work, and extracurricular activities, college and university students today are tasked with more than just earning a degree. Online classes provide the flexibility students need to juggle multiple commitments while furthering their education.
Every year, distance education gains significant traction. According to a report from Digital Learning Compass, more than 6 million students took at least one online course in 2015, representing more than a quarter (29.7 percent) of all higher education enrollments that year.
These findings corroborate an earlier report from the Babson Survey Research Group, which found that the number of students taking online courses has consistently grown over the last 13 years. Overall, more than a quarter of higher education students (28 percent) are enrolled in at least one online course. In contrast, between 2012 and 2016, the total number of students studying strictly on a physical campus dropped by more than 1 million, or 6.4 percent.
"No matter how much we think that there might be something slowing it down, it hasn't happened," says Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group and a co-author of the study.
In light of these statistics, it’s clear that online learning isn’t going anywhere — and the future of higher education may lie with technology.
With this in mind, here are five ways online learning prepares you for tomorrow.
Online Courses Allow for Increased Instructor-Student Time and Could Save Money
Oftentimes, online courses are cheaper than face-to-face classes and allow for an increased instructor-student time while delivering quality educational experiences at scale.
When choosing a college or university, the cost is a significant factor for many students. In fact, a 2015 study from The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research found that affordable tuition and fees were the most important decision-making factor, with almost half of students (45%) choosing the least expensive school.
According to statistics, the total average cost of a traditional degree is $85,000, while the total average cost of an online degree is just $30,000.Because online students can study from home, they can avoid the room, board, and meal plan costs associated with living on campus. Additionally, distance learners avoid the transportation costs (parking and gas fees) that plague on-campus students.
Online courses may also provide multiple methods of communicating with the instructor, allowing for greater one-on-one interaction. A recent study found that 97% of online institutions’ courses offer student/faculty ratios of 25:1 or better. The same study also found that 77% of educators believe that online learning is just as good as traditional learning, if not better, and nearly 70% of all students claim online instruction to be as good as or better than in a traditional classroom setting.
Online Courses Set You Up for Success in the Workplace
Online classes help prepare students for success in the 21st-century work environment. Succeeding in online classes requires motivation, accountability, and self-discipline — valuable skills that will easily transfer to the workplace.
Because many students work full time and have family obligations, they must demonstrate time management skills when it comes to succeeding in their online classes. Similarly, to get to the next level in one’s career, employees must be disciplined and able to effectively juggle their personal and professional lives.
Taking an online course can also help students develop their writing and communication skills. Between sending emails, participating in discussion boards, and navigating social media, online learners inevitably become experts in effective, clear communication. Mastering respectful communication skills allows one to thrive in a professional work environment.
Finally, online classes require multitasking. Between maintaining course reading, completing assignments, and participating in online discussion threads and emails, students are forced to master multiple duties at once. Likewise, effective multitasking is a common challenge in today’s workforce.
Online Courses Allow Lifelong Learning
Students expect to graduate into gainful employment, and in today’s competitive job market, lifelong learning is no longer an option — it’s a requirement. Taking online courses help workers remain competitive and up-to-date with the latest advancements in their field without taking time off of work.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 63% of those who are working (or 36% of all adults) identify as professional learners — meaning they have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement.
Overall, 65% say their learning in the past 12 months expanded their professional network; 47% say their extra training helped them advance within their current company; 29% say it enabled them to find a new job with their current employer or a new one; and 27% say it helped them consider a different career path.
There’s no denying the internet is an important tool for many adults in the process of lifelong learning. Online courses provide an affordable, flexible way for employees to develop new skills and advance their careers.
Benefits of Digital Books and Resources
Due to advancements in technology, online learning and distance education is changing the way students absorb information. Dr. Mary Lowe, Associate Dean of Online Education at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity and co-author of Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education, points out that thanks to augmented reality, online classes provide a new way for students to interface with the physical world.
She writes: “Students are engaged in experiential learning in a way not previously imagined. Rather than reading about a specific period in church history, such as the Reformation, augmented reality allows a learner to walk through Martin Luther's residence or travel with him to the Wartburg Castle. Biblical characters and events appear lifelike. Students in a nursing course could learn medical procedures with seemingly real bodies. Virtual characters projected onto a screen could become mentors for supervised field ministry courses.”
Additionally, online learning tools — such as digital books and other resources — provide unlimited benefits for students. E-books are a cost-effective, up-to-date, and environmentally friendly way of obtaining one’s reading curriculum.
Through e-books and other online resources, students are also able to find the information they want whenever they need it. Unlike heavy textbooks, ebooks are easily portable, allowing for access on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
E-books and other online resources are also a great option for visual learners. Through videos, graphs, narration, and other options, digital resources expand learning opportunities to students who may not find plain text effective.
Online Courses Establish and Enhance Computer Literacy
Computer literacy is extremely important in today’s competitive job market. From programming and navigating various web platforms to online etiquette and email communication, the skills learned in online classes are endless.
Being digitally literate isn’t simply about attaining “isolated technological skills,” according to the NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Instead, it’s about “generating a deeper understanding of the digital environment, enabling intuitive adaptation to new contexts and co-creation of content with others.”
Kathy Freeland, the author of Navigating Your Way to Business Success, said that virtually every employer now seeks candidates with some degree of computer literacy.
"We live in a technologically advanced world, and many of the processes that were formerly done manually are now automated. Therefore, being computer literate is a must-have,” she said.
Based on recent trends, it’s clear that online learning is here to stay, and the future of education may very well lie with technology. Why not take advantage of the many benefits of distance education by signing up for an online class today?