What every student should know about online learning


Dr. John E. Reid, Jr.

Thinking about taking one of our accredited online workshops? Read this practical article by Dr. John E. Reid, Jr.,  President of JER Group Inc., and discover if you are someone who is ready to use technology to advance your knowledge and learn new skills.

Dee Baxley and Russel Smith would be the first to tell you that taking a college course over the Internet was one of the best experiences of their academic lives. As students enrolled in Shorter College's Professional Program in Marietta, Georgia both agree that having the opportunity to learn by navigating the Internet has taught them more about their course of study then they could have ever imagined. Baxley is an adult student on a mission. With just under three years for completion of her General Education degree, the administrative assistant for The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta believes that exposure to an online class has helped significantly with time management. With limited access to local library resources on weekends, Baxley is happy that world-wide choices at anytime provide her with some very viable options. Smith, at age 26 is also moving ahead with his career as a Financial Sales analyst for Pitney Bowles. Working in the Southeastern Region he devotes much of his time to trends analysis, reporting findings to executive officers and senior management. A General Education major with an eye on someday pursuing a Business Degree, Smith feels that the melding of Internet technology with educational studies has arrived on the scene just in time for him. "For adults returning to pursue their education," Smith suggests "this form of study might be the right approach."

Virtual online education

By definition, "virtual education" is the study of credit and non credit courses from world-wide remote sites that are neither bound by time or physical location. In essence, a student hooks up with other students and an instructor in both real and virtual time. Whether in a plane comfortably cruising at 33,000 feet, or at home, at any given moment a student can log into a virtual classroom. From desktop or laptop, e-mail assignments can be sent and received. Study, research, discovery and new knowledge are at a student's fingertips. It is here that the student's enthusiasm level is piqued.

Finding the right program--Thanks to Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo anyone interested in discovering more about online study can do so by simply typing in keywords such as "Online Courses," "Virtual Universities," "Online Continuing Education," and "Online Distance Education".

Most continuing education programs are beginning to do business with outside vendors who provide a turnkey approach. Vendors locate recruit facilitators, handle management issues, create courses and offer them to their partners for enrollment though database programs. 

Computer-mediated distance education-is it for everyone?

Since the main objective is to give everyone an opportunity to enroll in an online class, it is important to advise prospective students considering credit or non-credit study. This form of learning may not be for everyone however, at least not initially. Listed below are four key considerations:

1. Do not be to quick to enroll in a full course of online study. You should first introduce yourself to the use of technology by enrolling in an elective course offered over the Internet. Generally these courses require less commitment to time and study and will give a "first timer" an approximate means of gauging how well they will perform in future classes. The advice given should be, "don't bite off more than you can chew."

2. Next, these classes tend to circumvent scheduling problems by allowing learners to make choices as to where and when they study and participate. This can also be the Achilles heel for some of the more disorganized in the student population. It's just too easy to put off study with all the freedom technology provides. Perhaps the biggest problem is going to be letting tasks and time get away. A high degree of time management skills are needed for assured success. These skills are a absolute necessity and as such should be stressed over and over.

3. A big part of computer-mediated education is making yourself more responsible for self-learning. Instructors in the online environment facilitate, leaving the student to find their own way. Some students like the idea of having an instructor meeting and leading class discussion with them at a regular time. In the virtual classroom students instructors come and go at all hours. Some learners are sure to discover that this form of communication is difficult for them. How well you do at learning on your own will have a significant bearing on performance.

4. Enough cannot be stressed about the your ability to navigate around the Internet. Using a variety of search engines and database managers is a prerequisite for most courses. Knowing how to use the World Wide Web, Newsgroups, FTP, chat rooms and e-mail for research and study are all part of the necessary tools a student should possess.

Something to think about

The shift in the teaching and learning paradigm (the old Carnegie model, where you had to sit in a seat) is steadily evolving as technology itself does (the Computer-mediated mode, anytime-anywhere distributive learning). Students are becoming more responsible for discovery and self-learning while teachers take on the role of facilitators. Occupying a seat in a physical classroom for a specific period of time is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule. With online access and a desktop or portable computer, students are never more than a phone call away from the classroom.

For adult learners Dee Baxley and Russell Smith, learning over the Internet has meant that critical and undefined work schedules don't have to keep them from their educational goals. Both agree that computer-mediated distance education is at the cutting edge of instructional delivery and the future growth of technology will offer them even more opportunities. This according to Baxley is "just another magnificent demonstration of the Internet's capabilities."