Distance education and correspondence courses have existed for much longer than the internet, but new technology in the past 30 years has spiked the sheer volume and richness of educational content that can be delivered remotely. Institutions of higher learning are taking advantage of high speed internet connections, plummeting laptop prices, and rapid software innovation to deliver knowledge in massive quantities at lower costs.
The new technology isn’t only on the institutional side, though. Tablet computers, netbooks and portable WiFi hotspots give students diverse choices about how, when, and where to do their school work. The proliferation of options can be a boon for students with jobs, kids and packed schedules, but too many choices can also cause confusion. Students need to manage their time well no matter what technology they use, and a combination of good gadgets and good habits is crucial for anyone wanting to succeed in online courses.
Though many students consider themselves “visual learners” or “auditory learners” who need to see or hear something to understand and remember it, research shows that most students learn best with a variety of intermingled presentation styles. Online universities deliver content in various forms of digital media, including:
Some online colleges also require students to visit a campus or learning center to have personal interaction with other students and professors, which can reinforce learning and create a stronger sense of connection and academic responsibility.
Online universities get a lot of attention because of their huge growth and enrollment in the past decade, but technology enabled distance learning is growing at lower grade levels as well. The graph below shows the number of enrollments in technology enabled distance courses for different levels of instruction, from elementary through high school
Most distance learning programs incorporate both synchronous learning, in which an instructor and students all sign on at once to have real-time interactions, and asynchronous learning, in which students and teachers can post materials to a persistent online location that can be visited and updated at any time.
An example of an asynchronous learning tool is a discussion board where the professor posts a document and asks the class to discuss. Then the students sign on individually, whenever they have time, and respond to the document and the comments of other students. This is often accomplished through a secure online forum like Blackboard or Moodle. These softwares allow separate instances to be set up so that nobody outside your class can access your comments or coursework.
An example of synchronous learning would be a videoconference in which the professor and students all log in, and can see and hear each other via the webcams and microphones in their computers. This allows for more on-the-fly learning, since you can ask questions as soon as you think of them, and other students can chime in, as well as the professor, to answer them.
A computer and an internet connection are necessary equipment for an online student, and every online university has minimum requirements for the speed and power of the devices you can use to access their course materials. The computer requirements for the University of Phoenix, one of the largest online universities, include:
The system requirements are likely fairly similar for most online universities, as there is heavy competition to stay at the forefront of technology in the online higher education industry while still remaining accessible.
Technology doesn’t just kick in when you start your online classes. There are websites and apps to help you decide what course of study is right for you, and find colleges that can meet your needs. The government and many educational institutions offer online applications for student loans, scholarships, grants, fellowships, and work-study opportunities as well, so it is important to fire up your web browser and dig through relevant websites so you have a clear picture of your options when decision time rolls around. Info aggregators and test-administering organizations like CollegeBoard and The Princeton Review provide helpful tips for planning an education and the career that comes after it.
The fastest, most advanced technology will be useless to you if you can’t manage your time. The convenience allowed by online courses can give you a false sense that the courses are easy or that they don’t require much time or attention. Online courses can be as difficult or more so than classroom ones, and if you’re juggling a job and family responsibilities, good study habits are the only way to keep your head above water in school. The most important ways to make sure you’re squeezing the most out of your online courses are:
The utility of technology in educational contexts cannot be disputed, but with the mass proliferation of entertainment and social communication platforms, it is important for students to manage their usage of gadgets and software, and maximize the educational benefits thereof. Online universities are making use of new technologies as quickly as they are released, but students can still find new and exciting ways to learn and grow with the expanding number of tools at their disposal./what-technology-powers-online-universities