• Trends in Online Education: How Technology Is Helping Nontraditional Students Succeed

    October 21, 2013 by
    Laptop with E-learning on the screen

    Laptop with E-learning on the screen. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

    Student loan debt is in the trillions, the job market feels like it’s never going to properly recover and college tuition prices continue to rise. While it’s unlikely the United States will ever adopt free education options like many European countries, the surge in online learning technology is helping to mitigate some of these issues.

    Campus Technology reports the amount of online classes students take has increased more than 96 percent over a five-year period. Online courses and degree programs provide significant advantages to students, particularly to nontraditional students who need to work around a schedule filled up with work and family obligations. As online courses and colleges continue to gain ground, the supporting technology improves, too. Let’s take a look at the trends:

    Massive Open Online Courses

    One of the biggest trends in the online education arena has been the introduction of massive open online courses (MOOCs). These courses are available for free and accessible by students across the world. One of the most well-known companies is Coursera, which provides a wide range of college courses for free through their website. Since the site doesn’t make money directly from courses or tuition, these growing companies are exploring ways to make the business model viable.

    Some professors create classes for MOOCs to supplement their own classrooms. Instead of going over the same old material in class, a professor has students go through the core material online and supplements the learning with expanded material and discussion in class.

    Social Media Education

    Some social media sites are leveraging their communities to create an eclectic mix of courses. Reddit’s University of Reddit is one such site. The community members range from teenagers to college professors and everyone in between. Courses are created and hosted through the Reddit University platform, and anyone can participate in a class. Some example courses University of Reddit provides includes Rails 101, Intro to MySQL, Handwriting Repair and Introduction to Category Theory.

    Second Screen

    Second-screen technology refers to any device used to supplement your current activity. For example, you’re using a second screen when you look up sports scores on your smartphone while you watch the game. This technology integrates well with online learning, as students can observe a recorded lecture or participate in a group chat and look up information without going into another browser tab or otherwise draw their attention drawn away from their monitor.

    Mobile Learning

    Another area of online learning where Coursera is working toward is emerging markets where broadband penetration is lower. While broadband Internet may be in short supply in those areas, smartphone and cell phones with mobile Internet access continue to increase. This gives Coursera and other online education providers a way to reach these markets without having to wait for better broadband availability.

    The Future

    Colleges continue to develop their virtual campuses and courses, such as the medical billing and coding program at pennfoster.edu. Outside of traditional colleges, MOOCs and other online education options provide a way for people to continue learning from qualified professionals without shelling out thousands of dollars and tons of time for the privilege.

    By Paul Beebe

    Paul is a Northwestern grad with degrees in information science and Web design. He recently quit his day job to get his own technology company up and running, and he sure hopes blogging pays the bills in the meantime.

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