Recently, I attended the graduation of my step daughter from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) near Denver. She graduated Magna Cum Laude. Yea, I got smart kids. Even my blended ones.
The ceremony was small, as was expected from a school like RMCAD, but one thing during the ceremony struck me as they read the names of the graduates: Although there were about 100 graduates in attendance, there was about the same amount of students that were not there, whose names were also read and for most of them, the words “Online Student ” proceeded their name.
“Sondra Lopez, Online Student.”
These students, had completed most if not all of their degree without ever having physically set foot on the campus. My daughter was one of those students, completing her entire four year plan of study totally online. We had only set foot on the campus twice previously, once to see the program of study while she was a senior in High School, and once again while we were driving through Denver on a summer vacation.
That’s it. Every single class, all advising, everything, was conducted through a wifi connection and school-supplied Mac laptop.
My daughter is not unusual in my family. My wife completed her Master’s in Education from the University of Texas at Arlington, having only visited the campus to participate in her graduation ceremony. Everything else, like her daughter, was online.
Of course, my family is not some anomaly because I am a techie nerd. A study in 2017 found that 100% of post secondary students take at least one online class sometime during their degree program. Did you get that? 100%. Every. Single. Student.
Add to that, at least 48% of all students in the US take ALL of their university classes online. Nearly half. And it isn’t just kids straight outta high school going online for learning. Those numbers also contain those learners that are returning to school to improve their job skills once they have left college.
Chances are, you may have taken an online course in one form or another over the years or your employer has asked you to attend one.
Trends indicate that the movement towards online learning is only growing, not getting smaller. Universities are now offering free online courses as well. MIT, one of the most prestigious schools in the world posts almost every single class taught online so anyone can learn along with the students in Cambridge. (Of course, you still have to enroll in order to get credit for the courses, but hey, if you want to quick refresher in Quantum Mechanics and can’t make the journey to the east coast, MIT has an online course for you.)
Universities are also experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), where thousands of students from anywhere in the world can enroll for free and get credit. These MOOCs have had a mixed success rate, with a lot of students starting and a fraction finishing the classes.
Stanford University started the first MOOC with a class in Artificial Intelligence several years ago, and over 100,000 students enrolled for it. By the end, only 5000 completed the course, a 95% dropout rate.
Some saw that as a failure, but the professor who taught the course explained that it would have taken him over a century to have 5000 students complete his course at Stanford, which typically has an enrollment between 12 and 20 students a semester, when it was offered.
With the onslaught on online learning, it is more important than ever that schools and school districts prepare students to learn in that environment. Students that are required to take an online course that have never experienced online learning are at a decided disadvantage than their peers that know how to navigate learning management systems like Canvas or Schoology.
There are multiple reasons why a student needs to take online lessons besides the obvious of preparing them for a post-secondary world that is not waiting for them to catch up.
In her article “How Online Learning Helps Students Pursue Their Passions” Lorne Bird writes that there are at least five good reasons to get students used to learning online:
- Students respond well when they have choices in learning, which online learning facilitates better than traditional face to face learning.
- Online learning offers more flexibility as students with a wide variety of learning styles can pace themselves at the rate that best suits their needs, not the class’s or the teacher’s.
- Online learning is differentiated providing learning at anytime and anywhere there is a wifi connection.
- Online learning develops self-determined, motivated students because students have to push themselves to complete courses, just as they would have to in college.
- Online learning helps students build strong global connections. Despite what you might have heard, the world is connected and online learning helps students develop online collaboration skills that will be invaluable in the future workplace.
Consider this a challenge. Any school district that is not requiring students to complete at least one online course to prepare them for future learning is doing a disservice.
If they have the phrases “future learning” of “lifelong learner” anywhere in their motto and are not providing these opportunities, they need to either rewrite the motto or get on the ball and provide the opportunity.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.