More and more young people are choosing non-traditional education to start and advance in their careers while completing and furthering their formal education. “Typical distance learners are those who don’t have access to programs, employees who work during scheduled class hours, homebound individuals, self-motivated individuals who want to take courses for self-knowledge or advancement, or those who are unable or unwilling to attend class” (Charp, 2000, p. 10). Three key elements surround the online learner: technology, curriculum, and instructor (Bedore, Bedore, & Bedore, 1997). These elements must be keenly integrated into one smoothly and operationally functional delivery tool.
While an online method of education can be a highly effective alternative for the mature, self-disciplined student, it is an inappropriate learning environment for more dependent learners. Online asynchronous education gives students control over their learning experience and allows for flexibility of study schedules for nontraditional students; however, this places a greater responsibility on the student. To successfully participate in an online program, students must be well organized, self-motivated, and possess a high degree of time management skills to keep up with the pace of the course. For these reasons, online education or e-learning is not appropriate for younger students (i.e., elementary or secondary school age) and other dependent learners who have difficulty assuming responsibilities required by the online paradigm.
Millions of students use e-learning solutions in over 140 countries: corporations such as Kodak and Toyota and education providers like ExecuTrain, New Horizons, the Enoch Olinga College (ENOCIS), Phoenix University, amongst the hundreds of schools and colleges.
Studies have shown student retention to be up to 250% better with online learning than with classroom courses. Several recent ones have helped frame the debate. The Sloan Consortium published a widely distributed report titled “Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States in 2005″ that examined the growing prevalence of online education across U.S. institutions.
In addition, a study conducted by the Boston-based consulting firm Eduventures found that, while about half of institutions and more than 60 percent of employers generally accept the high quality of online learning, students’ perceptions differ. Only about 33 percent of prospective online students said that they perceive the quality of online education to be “as good as or better than” face-to-face education. Ironically, 36 percent of prospective students surveyed cited concern about employers’ acceptance of online education as a reason for their reluctance to enroll in online courses.
But what actually drives quality? A March 2006 report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education identifies six quality indicators: mission, curriculum and instruction, faculty support, student and academic services, planning for sustainability and growth, and evaluation and assessment.
The debate rages on while the Pros and Cons of Online Adult Education for today’s international students are constantly analyzed to determine if this type of education platform can deliver predictable and measurable results.
The Enoch Olinga College (ENOCIS) is one institution that uses this type of delivery system. ENOCIS enhances their learning experience by offering many other “value-added,” cost-reducing benefits to students. Online pupils can apply for scholarships available to excellent students and other financial aid programs like the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), with attractive interest rates. They also provide convenient payment facilities, online banking, Western Union Quick Collect, and bank cards. A student who is granted a loan can start repaying it after two months if they have a corporate guarantor.
Pros of Online Education:
The key advantages of the online education experience are briefly explained below:
1. Cheaper: Online courses may be more affordable than those offered at colleges or trade schools. You may also save on transportation costs like gas, bus passes, and parking permits because you don’t need to commute to school, and there are no housing or meal plans to worry about since you do not need to live on or near a college campus. Housing expenses and other costs associated with living expenses are usually the most expensive aspects of college education, so by taking an online course, you could save quite a bit of money.
The best part of online education is the absence of travel and immigration problems. Some students may prefer not to pursue traditional on-campus education, as it involves traveling to attend lectures. With online education, an applicant does not need to travel. Courses require accessing the internet to begin the learning process.
2. More Convenient: By taking courses online, you’re able to decide when you study and for how long. You are also able to schedule your studying around your work or social schedule.
You can learn when you need it (Just-In-Time). A course is as close as a computer with an Internet connection. Since you’re not bound to a classroom, you may do your work wherever you have access to a computer and the internet. You’ll be able to set your own pace and decide exactly how fast you want to go over the material. Take online courses when you need them, not based on some college’s annual or semester schedule.
3. Flexibility: with no set class times, you decide when to complete your assignments and readings. You set the pace. In some programs, you can even design your own degree plan. Online students can carry out their private or official work, along with online education. As it provides the convenience of time flexibility, a student can log in and log out as per his desire, whereas; traditional education does not provide such flexibility in learning. The flexibility of online education allows the students control over their studies. They can allot more time on the topics, which they feel comparatively hard and vice versa. The speed of learning depends solely upon the students.
4. Technology: With the help of scientific technology, students can do their online education at any place. The only mandatory pre-requisite is the availability of a computer along with an internet amenity. Side benefits include learning new technologies and technical skills
5. Availability: distance-learning opportunities have exploded over the past few years, with many accredited and reputable programs.
6. Accessibility: with an online course, you can work on the course just about anywhere you have computer access. Your geographic location does not constrain your learning options. The new virtual classrooms have created a myriad of learning opportunities for global learning and education center. Online education is a new era of experience adapting to the needs of the world citizen.
7. Self-Directed: you set your own pace and schedule, so you control the learning environment.
8. Time Spent in Classroom: now you can take a course on just about any subject without ever having to be in, or travel to, a classroom, so you have very little wasted time. Note, however, that some distance-education programs still have an in-class component. Normally, an international student must spend one or two semesters on campus to receive a fully accredited US university degree.
9. High-Quality Dialog: Within an online asynchronous discussion structure, the learner can carefully reflect on each comment from others before responding or moving on to the next item. This structure allows students time to articulate responses with much more depth and forethought than in a traditional face-to-face discussion situation where the participant must analyze the comment on the spot and formulate a response or otherwise loose the chance to contribute to the discussion.
10. Student Centered: Within an online discussion, the individual student responds to the course material (lectures and course books, for example) and comments from other students. Students usually respond to those topics within the broader conversation that most clearly speak to their individual concerns and situations, resulting in several smaller conversations simultaneously within the group. While students are expected to read all of their classmates’ contributions, they will become actively engaged only in those parts of the dialog most relevant to their needs. In this way, students take control of their own learning experience and tailor the class discussions to meet their own specific needs. Ideally, students make their own individual contributions to the course while taking away a unique mix of information directly relevant to their needs.
11. Level Playing Field: In the online environment, learners retain a considerable level of anonymity. Discriminating factors such as age, dress, physical appearance, disabilities, race, and gender are largely absent. Instead, the focus of attention is clearly on the content of the discussion and the individual’s ability to respond and contribute thoughtfully and intelligently to the material at hand.
Online adult education can be more effective and better for certain types of learners (shy, introverted, reflective, language challenged, those that need more time). Distance education courses are often better for people who learn through visual cues and experiential exercises.
12. Synergy: The online format allows for a high level of dynamic interaction between the instructor and students and among the students themselves. Resources and ideas are shared, and continuous synergy will be generated through the learning process as each individual contributes to the course discussions and comments on the work of others. The synergy in the student-centered virtual classroom is one of the unique and vital traits that the online learning format possesses.
13. Access to Resources: It is easy to include distinguished guest experts or students from other institutions in an online class and allow students to access resources and information anywhere in the world. An instructor can compile a resource section online with links to scholarly articles, institutions, and other materials relevant to the course topic for students to access for research, extension, or in-depth analysis of course content material in the global classroom.
14. Creative Teaching: Adult education literature supports the use of interactive learning environments as contributing to self-direction and critical thinking. Some educators have made great strides in applying these concepts to their on-ground teaching. However, many classes still exist which are based on boring lectures and rote memorization of material. The nature of the semi-autonomous and self-directed world of the virtual classroom makes innovative and creative approaches to instruction even more important. In the online environment, the facilitator and student collaborate to create a dynamic learning experience. The occasion of a shift in technology creates the hope that those who move into the new technology will also leave behind bad habits as they adopt this new paradigm of teaching. As educators redesign their course materials to fit the online format, they must reflect on their course objectives and teaching style and find that many of the qualities that make a successful online facilitator are also tremendously effective in the traditional classroom.
Cons of Online Education:
Briefly explained are some factors that could negatively affect your success with distance learning courses:
1. The Technology:
a. Equity and Accessibility to Technology: Before any online program can hope to succeed, it must have students who can access the online learning environment. Lack of access, whether for economical or logistics reasons, will exclude otherwise eligible students from the course. This is a significant issue in rural and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods and educating the underserved peoples of the world. Furthermore, from an administrative point of view, if students cannot afford the institution’s technology, they are lost as customers. As far as Internet accessibility is concerned, it is not universal. In some areas of the United States and other countries, Internet access poses a high cost to the user. Some users pay a fixed monthly rate for their Internet connection, while others are charged for the time they spend online. If the participants’ time online is limited by the amount of Internet access they can afford, then instruction and participation in the online program will not be equitable for all students in the course. This is a limitation of online programs that rely on Internet access. Equity of access to learners of all backgrounds and parts of society
b. Requires New Skills/Technologies: if you’re not computer-savvy or are afraid of change or new technologies, then online education will probably not work for you. Online students are required to learn new skills, such as researching and reviewing the internet. For online students, they need to learn navigation techniques on an online library for necessary information. Technical training and support of learners and instructors
c. Computer Literacy: Students and facilitators must possess a minimum level of computer knowledge to function successfully in an online environment. For example, they must be able to use various search engines, be comfortable navigating on the World Wide Web and be familiar with Newsgroups, FTP procedures, and email. If they do not possess these technology tools, they will not succeed in an online program; a student or faculty member who cannot function on the system will drag the entire program down.
Unfortunately, it is not a question of whether the online program equipment will fail, but when. d. Limitations of Technology: User-friendly and reliable technology is critical to a successful online program. However, even the most sophisticated technology is not 100% reliable. When everything is running smoothly, technology is intended to be low profile and is used in the learning process. However, breakdowns can occur at any point along with the system; for example, the server which hosts the program could crash and cut all participants off from the class; a participant may access the class through a networked computer which could go down; individual PCs can have numerous problems which could limit students’ access; finally, the Internet connection could fail, or the institution hosting the connection could become bogged down with users and either slow down or fail all together. In situations like these, the technology is neither seamless nor reliable, detracting from the learning experience.
2. The Institution: Many online education facilities are relatively new with many courses and hence, lack modern instructors for instructing the new curriculum. Estimates show that there is still a need to increase more than 50% of qualified instructors for online education.
b. The Administration and Faculty: Some environments are disruptive to the successful implementation of an online program. Administrators and/or faculty members who are uncomfortable with change and working with technology or feel that online programs cannot offer quality education often inhibit the process of implementation. These people represent a considerable weakness in an online program because they can hinder its success.
3. The Facilitator: Lack of Essential Online Qualities: Successful on-ground instruction does not always translate to successful online instruction. If facilitators are not properly trained in online delivery and methodologies, the success of the online program will be compromised. An instructor must communicate well in writing and in the language in which the course is offered. An online program will be weakened if its facilitators are not adequately prepared to function in the virtual classroom.
4. Perceptions/Reputation: while slowly changing as more and more mainstream colleges and universities embrace distance learning, there still is a stigma attached to distance education to the student’s interaction in online education. Some of the students believe that there are few opportunities with regards to face-to-face interactions and feedbacks.
5. No Instructor Face Time: If your learning style is one where you like personalized attention from your teachers, then online education will probably not work for you.
6. Little Support: students are expected to find their own resources for completing assignments and exams, which is empowering for some, but daunting for others.
There is little support and limited guidelines provided in the online education system. Online students are required to search as per their own imaginations for completing exams and assignments.
7. Lacking Social Interaction: while you often interact with classmates via email, chat rooms, or discussion groups, there are no parties or offline get-togethers. If you enjoy meeting new people and learn better while you’re interacting with other people, you may want to reconsider online education.
8. No Campus Atmosphere: part of the traditional college experience, of course, is the beauty of the campus, the college spirit, but you have none of that with distance-education courses.
Since you’re not on campus or in classes, you may lack opportunities to meet other students. You will not have many opportunities to interact face-to-face with your professors, so they may not have a real sense of who you are as a person.
9. Making Time: if you are a procrastinator or one of those who always needs an extra push to complete work, you may have a hard time making time for your online classes. Online learning requires new skills and responsibilities from learners
10. Academic honesty of online students: requires a new mindset to online assessment. Most education experts agree that rote memory testing is not the best measure of learning in any environment, and new measurement and evaluation tools are evolving.
11. Types and effectiveness of assessments: The importance of outcomes in online learning cannot be over-emphasized. Does the program have measurable results? Are students learning what you say they should be learning? Then there are institutional outputs: course completion rates, job placement rates (if that’s the institution’s goal), graduation rates, student success on third-party tests, and student satisfaction scores.
These factors, both the pros and cons, contribute greatly to making an informed decision about the direction of your career path and how you will accomplish your goals: online, in the classroom, or a combination of both.
Institutions and companies that use continuing education to meet their needs also face similar decisions. Institutions that deliver online education are confronted with a series of challenges, including the search for good faculty, use of technology, and provision of adequate student services.
The Sloan Consortium report “Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States in 2005″ found that 64 percent of chief academic officers and faculty believe that it takes more discipline for a student to succeed in an online course than it does in a face-to-face course.
More and more major businesses and industries are turning to online continuing education as a viable and cost-effective resource for training personnel. Hilton Hotel has 380 hotels worldwide and is represented in 66 countries.
When you weigh the benefits and advantages of on line adult continuing education, the cost of study and flexibility of scheduling tip the scales of programs like the Enoch Olinga College, Capella, and Phoenix University’s distance learning program on line adult continuing education is becoming a world wide respected form of education.
However, as with any situation, there are both pros and cons with the concept of online education and the benefits of the virtual or global classroom. You may want to evaluate both before you decide on an online education program. By examining the advantages and disadvantages, you will be able to make a more informed decision. But, at the end of the day, online learning is independent learning. A lot of structure has been put into online programs, but it still comes down to a learner sitting in front of a computer by him or herself. The knowledge you receive or the benefits it will generate either in developing self-esteem or increasing earning capacity will depend solely upon you, the student.