Digital Learning

Why Online Courses Matter

When you read the title of this blog, I hope your first reaction was, “Well, DUH!!”

Online courses are part of today’s world in education; if you didn’t run into them in grade school, you’re sure to do so in college.

And, if you’re a student, you already know they matter. They’re important as part of where we’re going. Understanding the reasons only requires us to look back a few years.

It all has to do with options… mostly for students, but also for teachers.

Why Online Courses MatterAs recently as 10 years ago, if you were very far off-campus, you either weren’t a student or you were commuting. When I was doing my graduate work in the mid-’90s, students in one of my classes drove 100 miles to campus once a week and stayed overnight to attend two classes on consecutive days!

Back in those nearly prehistoric days, there generally were few options for study using video and audio, as only a few programs had recorded lectures, and those were delivered by mailing VHS tapes. Internet delivery was a “someday” idea that sounded interesting, but it wasn’t real. There generally were no options for students to access classes other than attending classes and reading a textbook.

This lack of options extended to students on campus. Get sick and miss a week, and you were in the deep-darks. If you were lucky, there was a student note-taker in class and you could buy lecture notes, but aside from that, and reading your too-expensive textbook, you were on your own.

It was no better for teachers. They also get sick, and many of them have professional meetings out of town during class periods. After an absence, they’d have to make up lectures, mess up students’ schedules, and generally rearrange their lives and the lives of their students. If they were planning a trip, they often assigned extra work or special assignments to compensate for class time missed – seldom a popular option with students.

At this point, the online course entered the picture.

Why Online Courses MatterWhen a teacher sets up an online course with any significant amount of content and reference material, everyone involved suddenly has options that didn’t exist a few years ago. There is a way to get at content, ask questions, and (hopefully) even submit work and get feedback about it, no matter where the student and teacher are.

Online courses are very much about options – and what makes them so important is that online courses have created options that never existed before the last few years.

You want options? How about:

  • Access nationwide and worldwide, 24x7x365? Check.
  • Audio and video delivered online? Check.
  • Documents downloadable and uploadable? Check.
  • Discussion that goes on anytime, any day? Check.
  • Ability for teacher or student to travel, check in from coffee shops, or use public wi-fi networks? Check and double-check.

Why Online Courses MatterAccess and options matter; online courses provide better access to higher education, and that creates options for people around the nation and around the world. Those options and the quality of materials accessed are improving at a steady rate. At every institution, work is being done every year to improve online content and your access to it, although with the constant evolution of software, it’s a continual challenge to stare into the future and guess which way to go and which systems to use.

It’s going to be fun to watch how all this changes and improves over the next few years. The challenge is for us all to keep up, but it’s safe to say that access will improve, options will increase, and more really cool stuff will show up. Excuse me … my tablet is calling me. Gotta go.


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