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Is Online Out of Line?

Online learning seems trendy, but is it effective? Does it offer real advantages or is it just the latest technology fad? Scientific American’s August issue included a special report on “Learning in the Digital Age”. This report includes articles on the growing trend of online and flipped classrooms in the university setting, as well as ways that high schools are implementing online learning. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of online learning:

1. Online classes allow students to learn at their own pace

Traditional classrooms tend to have twenty-to-thirty student and a teacher tasked with trying to teach to the appropriate level for all of them. Inevitably, some students will be ready for the harder problems, while other students are still struggling with the basics. Online learning platforms can provide another tool to help teachers differentiate a classroom. Many platforms will tailor the types of problems and lessons on whether the student is getting the questions right or wrong.

2. Online classes encourage active rather than passive learning

In his article, “How to make online courses massively personal,” Peter Norvig discusses his experience teaching an online class on artificial intelligence at Stanford. In a traditional classroom, the bulk of class time is spent on lecture and discussions. This usually engages only a few talkative students while others remain quiet. However, some students process verbally, while others are thinkers, and others are doers. The online setting has several options, including forums, real-time small groups, polls, and personal quizzes. Also students are able to “chat” with the teacher without asking the question in front of the class. This tends to incorporate more students, and the teacher is able to interact with the students on several levels.

3. Online classes are accessible

The internet knows no geographic boundaries. As internet access becomes more and more commonplace throughout the world, students are not limited by whether a class is being held in their particular city. For example, a student living in a rural area can access an online classroom setting without spending time commuting. Students from other countries, hoping to go to college in the states, can take SAT or ACT prep classes from our instructors.This gives access to SAT and ACT test prep as well as academic tutoring to more students.

Will online learning take the place of the traditional classroom? Is it better? The reality is that when it comes to learning, we want to have as many tools as possible in our tool box. There are certain subjects that are learned best in a classroom setting, such as laboratory-based sciences. There are other subjects that lend themselves to online interaction, such as test prep. The technique itself is not the secret to success any more than owning a drill gets a project done. It is about using the right tools for the right job.  As Novig so aptly put it, “Online learning is a tool, just as the textbook is a tool. The way the teacher and the student use the tool is what really counts.”

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