It’s a relatively new concept in the world of professional training, but the new kid on the education block is really beginning to throw his weight around.
We’re talking about online learning—the application of new technology and interactive media to the age-old, fundamental concept of imparting knowledge from one person to another. And whether you need job training for your current career or you’re looking for a program that will get you started on a new career path, it might be wise for you think about how the new methods can work in your favor.
As our culture is growing more and more Web-focused, it’s no surprise to see online learning changing the education landscape. American colleges and universities are re-purposing many of their traditional programs for the Internet. All signs indicate that online education’s explosive growth is not just a fluke—it’s the wave of the future.
But how does online learning compare to traditional classroom education?
Online course providers are opening up career paths to more and more students wanting to work in a wide range of industries. We’re talking insurance, real estate, cosmetology, medical transcription, and much more (read Strategies for Elearners).
A lot of people breaking into these fields (or moving up through the ranks) are trying to decide where to get their job training. As they research their options, they are sometimes concerned that online education might deliver inadequate instruction compared with classroom training. That’s why many of them are surprised to learn that online learning is actually more effective than classroom learning in many respects.
How can this be? How can people learn without a classroom? Well, for one thing, researchers believe that the crucial component of a true learning experience is for the student to have active discussions with peers and teachers. This exchange of ideas is where education happens. And the online learning experience has become truly more interactive as the technologies it uses have developed over the years. The format has grown into a true give-and-take between teacher and student, rather than a one-way lecture-based paradigm.
Does studying online mean a decrease in effort and comprehension on the part of the student? Not at all. In fact, a recent study by nonprofit U.S. research and consulting organization Ithaka S+R found that students who engage in interactive online learning deliver work that is at least as good as that done by students in traditional classroom environments. The study, entitled “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” monitored some 600 college students in an introductory statistics course at six universities.
The study authors found that “hybrid-format” students took less time to achieve the same outcomes as their traditional-format counterpoints. It is important to note that the hybrid-format students were taking a course that included face-to-face instruction for one hour a week. The remainder of their class time used an “artificially intelligent learning platform” developed by scientists at Carnegie Mellon. Per the report:
We find that learning outcomes are essentially the same—that students in the hybrid format “pay no price” for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy. These zero-difference coefficients are precisely estimated. We also conduct speculative cost simulations and find that adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run.
As for the costs associated with learning online, the researchers say interactive training featuring face-to-face sessions with part-time instructors would cost 36-57 percent less than a traditional course with a full-time professor meeting groups of 40 students. And training providers are able to pass this savings on to students, who are finding that training, certification and continuing education programs are becoming more and more affordable as time goes by.
A student’s individual needs and unique career goals will dictate whether the cost savings and productivity boost that can be had from online learning make it the right choice for him or her. And there’s no doubt that some programs may be better suited for a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. But if you’re seeking training because it is required for your current job or because it is required for you to get started in a new career, it is a great idea for you to find out if you can get the best results possible by going online.