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The Effects of Online Learning

by Sarah Morse

Online learning changes the way that students of all types and ages interact with and access information. Its effect depends both on the student and the institution making the change. A well-developed online course, just like a well-developed traditional course, can open up new worlds of learning for students.

Access

Online learning increases access to education for many different types of people. For those with time-consuming daily obligations, the flexibility of an online course, or even an online degree, can mean the difference between getting a high school degree and a college degree, or an undergraduate degree and a doctorate. In rural areas where resources may be tight, online courses can broaden the scope of education for students, including classes the region's educational system could not otherwise afford to offer. Those with disabilities, such as an inability to see or hear, may also find that the technology available to them in an online course makes learning easier.

Efficiency

If developed properly, online classes may increase efficiency and course productivity. To supplement lectures, teachers can provide access to tools that facilitate discussion and active participation. In an online environment, teachers can reach students with different learning styles more easily. For example, they could post a video lecture for those who learn best by listening, a diagram, photos or video for those who learn best by seeing and an interactive game for those who learn by doing. Online assessments may help teachers identify those students that need some extra attention, making it less likely that these students slip through the cracks than in a traditional setting.

Social Interaction

Hot debate surrounds the social implications of online learning. For those with crippling social anxiety, a screen separating them from others may be a relief -- and provide a less stressful way to ask questions and make comments. Some may have the opposite reaction, however, if they lack proficiency with computers and the Internet. If well-crafted, an online course facilitates discussion while respecting all of its students. Because instructors cannot see student reactions, and do not always receive immediate feedback, they must tread carefully with touchy subjects and keep the discussion focused and respectful. Online learning instructors may have to try harder to make everyone feel connected to the group and to the course content.

Costs

Online learning may decrease costs for institutions and students alike. Students can save money on gas and other travel expenses, while maintaining a full-time job that may not have been possible with a traditional education. Although program development and technology may cost more initially, institutions may find that they can reduce costs due to decreased facility usage and an increased student to faculty ratio. Each institution will differ, and depending on its situation must analyze the costs and benefits of implementing online education.

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