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How Has the Internet Changed Education?

by Nicholas Delzotto

Many still recall the time it used to take to do research for a school project. A trip to the library was almost always required. Collaboration meant actually meeting classmates and teachers at schools and offices. Today, students can access information with just a few clicks and collaborate online. The Internet has changed virtually every aspect of education as students attend classes on the Web and find more opportunities to learn than ever before.

Online Information

According to SEO.com, 93% of students conduct research online rather than visit the library, with Wikipedia being the most popular resource. The immense amount of information on the Internet makes carrying a bookbag almost obsolete. Huge electronic libraries such as Project Gutenberg offer students over 40,000 free books, and reliable online references such as Britannica provide rich multimedia and interactive information from anywhere and anytime. In addition to instructing students on how to find information, teachers now focus on helping students to sift through and evaluate the overwhelming amount of information available.

Collaborating and Social Media

Not too long ago a "study group" would mean a few students getting together at someone's house to cram for a test. Now the term could be applied to a large multinational network of inquiring minds engaged in online collaboration. According to the latest data from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, fully 100 percent of colleges now use some form of social media, with Facebook topping the list. Students and their instructors collaborate in online discussions groups and share ideas with blogs. Even textbooks include interactive online social elements that allow students to view the latest trends and join conversations. Networks form around common interests and relationships develop across states and countries. Through social media, the Internet fosters a global perspective of the world and a place for students to share and learn.

Online Schools

A student today does not even technically have to go to a school to receive an education. Online schools have quickly become an acceptable alternative for a brick-and-mortar education. According to the 2011 annual report from the Sloan Consortium, over six million students in the U.S. are taking an online course and the 10 percent rate of growth for online enrollments far exceeds the growth rate of the overall student population, which is under 1 percent. Online courses give students with busy schedules like working adults and parents the opportunity to get an education. Similarly, home-schooled children now have access to structured online lessons. While some educators still question the effectiveness of online schools compared to face-to-face instruction, it is hard to deny they have become a mainstay of modern education.

Equity in Education

Educational opportunities for underprivileged and geographically isolated students have also grown as a result of the Internet. Students in hard-to-reach rural locations, such as those in the state of Alaska, connect with other online communities through "blended classes," a hybrid of online and face-to-face instruction. Programs such as the American Indian Foundation's Digital Equalizer help underprivileged students in India use the Internet to develop marketable skills and encourage social mobility in caste societies. Broader educational access for the public is the goal of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology's OPENCOURSEWARE, which puts virtually all of MIT's classes online free of charge. The Internet has made it possible for more students to get an education than ever before.

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About the Author

Nicholas Delzotto has been working in the field of educational technology for more than 10 years. He has developed various course-management systems and online portfolios, helping faculty and students use technology to enhance their academic lives. Delzotto holds a master's degree in teaching English as a second language.

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