Is Online Learning Pragmatic?
Advances in technology have allowed educational systems to diversify their methods of pedagogy. As early as elementary school, students are encouraged to use iPads and computers to play mathematics games, create multimedia presentations, and network with other students.
However, the ramifications of educational technology go beyond the traditional classroom. Diffusion of access to the internet has led to learning being conducted outside of the classroom, with institutions such as Khan Academy and TutorVista providing supplementary instruction for students. Furthermore, many secondary and tertiary institutions now offer classes that use hybrids of traditional and online instruction, commonly known as Blended classes, while some tertiary institutions have classes solely taught online. Indeed, the rate of growth for such e-learning courses greatly outstrips the growth of traditional learning. According to a 2007 study, enrollment in online classes has increased by 21% over since 2002, compared to only 2% for traditional education (Allen and Seaman). As with any significant innovation, the government and its subsidized organizations must conduct investigations into the feasibility of online learning.
The foundation of their investigations are formed by the guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act, which serves to expose “achievement gaps among traditionally underserved and vulnerable students and their peers,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. The main questions regarding online learning concern its ability to convey information to students in an effective and economical manner. A growing body of evidence suggests that online learning (OL) is as effect, if not more, as traditional face-to-face learning (F2F) and can increase the ratio of educated versus uneducated students on a global scale. OL bridges gaps between privileged and underprivileged students on two scales; one is that OL can directly disperse knowledge to a student through educational programs, while the other is that it provides free applications and other tools for students to use.
Many schools use programs such as BlackBoard and Schoology as mainframes for their classrooms, with such programs providing organized folders that contain class syllabi, assignments, e-books, and other sources of information. Many teachers also provide PowerPoint and other digital media that directly reflects material taught during school hours. Thus, students gain easy access to information in an interactive and simple interface, allowing them to work consistently in many environments. With regards to tertiary institutions, OL allows students with other responsibilities, such as children or jobs, to gain access to resources or online courses, thus broadening the pool of educated students. Students can then fill in the gaps in their knowledge through free applications such as the aforementioned Khan Academy, create projects through presentations tools such as Google Slides, and interact with their teachers through chat services such as Skype.
Therefore, students can attain a well-rounded education in many situations spanning across all levels of education. Furthermore, a 2010 study found that “students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts in the traditionally instructed courses,” validating the effectiveness of even long-distance OL (Shachar and Neumann). Therefore, OL is a powerful tool that provides consistent and effective education. However, it can be argued that an innovation is limited by it economical impact; can OL be implemented and used in an efficient manner? According to Susan Aldridge, a senior fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, online courses courses “cost more to develop, take more time to develop and take more time for the faculty to teach,” (Haynie). These expenses come from the need for technical support for both students and teachers, the licensing of OL programs and mainframes, and the trial-and-error period that comes with the betas of such courses.
Thus, the implementation of OL can be costly for larger institutions. For smaller institutions, however, such as high school and community colleges, the cost is much less due to the smaller scale of operation. Smaller institutions are able to spend less on overall faculty costs, which generally constitutes about 30-35% of overall spending at larger universities, and charge students less while maintaining profits (Desrochers and Kirshstein). It can be concluded that in order to decrease costs of OL, larger schools can increase the number of students per faculty member, which can be facilitated by encouraging students to seek help from their peers instead of professors and by providing further OL resources that assist students in their class work. Therefore, a healthy initial investment in OL can increase student and monetary turnover in a feasible manner, allowing schools to expand other programs. While it can be seen that OL is useful, there is an additional variable that affects its use more than anything else: the discipline and tech-savviness of its student users.
As the number of recreational apps grows, the demand for them will turn over to the new OL resources. Instead of using resources provided for OL, such as iPads and laptops, students may drift towards games and social media sites. Furthermore, students with undeveloped English and/or technological skills will need assistance with the usage of such resources. Such issues can be combated with discipline for misuse of technology, the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to limit the sites and applications students can access, and basic training for the use of such resources. This provides the additional benefit of teaching students digital literacy and citizenship, tools necessary in the modern workforce.
The United States provides free K-12 education as an investment in the future. By utilizing OL and its affiliated resources, such as mainframes and apps, the investment will yield greater returns presented as a competitive, technologically-apt workforce. Thus, despite the initial expense, OL is one of the most effective and innovative pedagogical tools available today. Works Cited Allen, Elaine, and Jeff Seaman. “Changing Course.” Online Learning Survey.
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