Why is Online Education Increasing in Popularity? -Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

by Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

Everyday, I see commercials or advertisements for new online universities I have never seen on the educational radar before. An industry that was not that long ago dominated by a few technical schools and a handful of online universities is growing exponentially. Why is online education gaining so much in popularity? It is easy to answer that question with the most obvious response: convenience. Where convenience does appear to be a major driving force behind the relative boom of new online education providers, it is not the only one.

There has been a lot of conversation in educational circles about the “millennium generation” and how their demands, perspectives, work ethic, and learning styles are very different from previous generations. Millennial’s, as the current generation of traditionally aged college students are called, are noted for loving technology, having shorter attention spans than their older counterparts, more willing to engage in community service than any generation since folks in the World War II era, and they are known for being notoriously resistant to taking accountability for their failures. While I have found some of these generalized characterizations to be true of my traditional students, there is much more there than may be apparent at first glance. This generation of university student demands more for their money. The days of blind respect for anyone with a Ph.D. are gone, these folks want you to earn their respect….and attention. I respect this, it challenges educators to be reflective, to grow and learn, to be better at their profession than they were yesterday, and to be creative. I can often tell how innovative or relevant my lectures, presentations, or demonstrations are by how many students are eyeing the cell phone stashed under their desk. I find technology driven classes, that integrate meaningful social discussions and direct industry application of the material, keep students active and engaged.

In my online classes I do not have the benefit of the watchful teacher eagle-eye that allows me to see if students are paying attention, instead I rely on statistics indicating which students are viewing my in-class blog posts, online tutorial videos, number and frequency of discussion postings to classmates, and scores on educational assessments. I find my online students read my daily blogs on the material far more often than the in-person students do (yes, I integrate a lot of online teaching techniques even in my in-person classes). I also find my online students tend to respond to questions I pose with much greater elaboration than when I ask the same questions verbally in-person. The ability to have time to think, to peruse material at one’s own speed, direct attention at will, and be in a personal environment that is comfortable all seem to contribute to this. It appears Millenial’s have caught on to something people in educational consultation and positive psychology have known for a long time: students need to have freedom of choice and be in a comfortable and safe learning environment to maximize the learning experience. Millenials know they are a unique snow flake (despite what Tyler Durden says in Fight Club), and they are turning to online learning educational experiences to give them more choices and more freedom.

Indeed, online education is not for everyone and the biggest complaint I hear from online students is the lack of teacher/student contact. My course evaluations consistently reflect students appreciate the one on one time I give them and the timely response of emails. This used to surprise me because, I wrongly assumed every professor did these things in online classes. Some universities with online course offerings and completely online universities do not encourage the faculty to set up Skype conversations, chat room discussions, or even regular email exchanges to give students a feeling of being connected. No one wants to feel they are all alone in front of a computer trying to attain a degree. The most successful online courses and programs have educational consultants, faculty, and administrators who know the true measure of the quality of any type of education is not only what you learn but who you learn it from. Mentors, colleagues, and connections are all part of the true higher education experience and the online universities who make this one of their mission goals will be the one’s that stand the test of time.

In conclusion, the reasons why online education is increasing in popularity include convenience, the desire for this generation of college students to have more freedom and choices in their educational experience, and the draw we all feel towards technology in general. The longevity of this form of higher education; however, is dependent on how well the programs integrate the timeless need every student has: to connect, communicate, and be mentored by someone who is more experienced in the domain than yourself.

Online education is responding to the rusting of old pedagogical techniques

Online education is responding to the rusting of old pedagogical techniques

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2 Comments

  1. Pratap Srivastava says:

    It’s really a truth full and encouraging

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