Growing online education trends: Pros and cons of online education

 Growth of online education and its pros and cons

Online education might not be a very old trend but still it has evolved very fast in the past few years. While in the initial years of its evolution, there were doubts regarding its popularity and growth, both have grown faster than expected. There are several reasons behind its growing popularity; the most important thing is that it is being seen as a solution to the most critical problems affecting the education system. From the rising costs of education to the need for flexible schedules, online education is being seen as a one stop solution for all of them. Internet brought us a wide range of benefits, one of which was access to online learning.  College and university students are using online resources for extra support with their studies and universities have also showed their willingness and enthusiasm to include online courses.

Now, a larger number of students are interested in getting enrolled in online courses.  The e-learning market has grown at a whopping rate in the past few years. As per a report, it was worth more than $166.5 billion in 2015 and in 2017 it is expected to have grown to $255 billion.  However, the question that if e-learning is going to become the future of education is still unanswered.  E-learning has taken several forms and includes the courses being made available by the world’s best universities like MIT and Harvard. Apart from it, professional training and certification preparation is also an important part of e-learning. In the years from 2012 to 2015, there has been a sharp growth in the number of students enrolled in online courses. Reports show that online education is a volatile but growing market.  The private non profit sector has gained fast in this area in the past years.  In 2012, it was the Phoenix University which was topping the charts but by 2015, it saw a near 40% reduction in the number of students taking online classes. In the meantime, other non profit colleges saw a fast rise in their number of students. Southern New Hampshire was the one to have gained the fastest. From rank 50 in 2012 it climbed to the 4th rank in 2015. This shows that much has happened in these three years and the online education landscape has changed a lot in the meantime.

Since US emerged from recession, college enrollments have fallen but there has been a rise in student enrollment in the distance learning courses. Two third of the colleges offering distance education have reported that enrollments have grown fast during these three years. The growth has been highest in the capacity of the private non profit sector. However, the for-profit and public sector institution are also following them closely by a small gap. A report published by the Pearson group analyzing the enrollment trends in distance education titled digital learning compass takes a detailed look at the trends and patterns of distance education enrollments among U.S. degree-granting higher education institutions. There are more than 6 million students enrolled in distance education courses in US.  The main highlights of the report are as follows:

30% of the total student population in higher education is taking at least one distance education course; 14% in exclusively distant education courses and 16% partially.

Most of the distance learning students are enrolled with the public institutions – around 68%. 18% of the distance learners are enrolled with non profits and 14% with for profits.

Six of seven graduate students at private for profit institutions are distance learners.

With growing enrollment in distance learning programs, there has also been a decline of nearly 5% in the campus enrollment.

The highest percentage of distance education students is enrolled at the largest institutions.

The likelihood of graduate students taking all courses at a distance is twice as higher as the undergraduate students.

This report shows that the popularity of distance learning has increased.  However, the report also provides important insights into the distribution patterns of distance learners in the United States.

Traditional learning has several shortcomings and it is why the shift had to anyhow come. The force of this shift had been felt as early as the early and middle 2000s. A report by the commission of the Future of Higher Education in 2006 had highlighted these facts already. Today, online learning is an integral part of the overall academic landscape in US and other Western nations. In the Eastern nations too, online earning trends are catching up. This fast shift is also a result of the technological boom experienced since the advent of the internet and Information technology. Today, there are thousands of websites and apps apart from the college resources that are catering to the needs of the modern students. The millennial generation is immersed in technology and they are even using the social media to learn. Millenials were born in an era when technology was changing the face of earth and people’s lifestyles fast. Globalization and technological boom have together fostered the exchange of ideas at a faster rate. Boundaries have faded and barriers have been brought down. The level of convenience that technology provides is unmatched and it is why the enrollment rate has kept growing in distance learning programs. This all just indicates one thing that online learning is not a passing fad but a trend that has grown stronger with time and its waves are reaching far and wide.  However, it is not just the students but the institutions too have benefited from these trends. It has given them an opportunity to enroll higher number of students from various regions of US and outside.

Online education has certainly brought some major changes and opened the doors to new opportunities both for K12 and college and University students.  With education technology growing maturer, now it is easier for students to access and take classes online.  For any student to learn in an online learning environment, he must have a computer, an internet connection and some basic IT skills.  It is true that the personal touch is reduced but still the flexibility and reduced costs more than make up for these losses. Moreover, any student with a laptop has access to his study materials all the time. This new model of education has also changed learning into a new experience. One to one interaction is an integral part of this model and it has allowed the teacher student relations to take a new and better form, taking the overall learning experience to a new level with a fresh approach. With all that attention and interaction, every student has access to a unique learning experience that allows them to learn quicker and with convenience. This also resolves the initial skepticism that existed about the effectiveness of online education.  Another key gap that online education has filled is that of helping with the global aim of “Education for All”. While online learning has become common in developed nations, in the developing nations too where access to internet and IT has increased in the rural areas, online education trends are sharply growing.  In these areas too, the popularity of online education has increased and it is because of the several special benefits it provides over the traditional model of education.

Pros and cons of online education

Pros of online education:

The most important benefits identified about online education are:

Convenience: – In several regards the new online education model is more convenient than the traditional. With regards to study location, hours of study and course duration it is far more convenient than the traditional model. You do not have to travel to a campus to attend classes. There is no constraint related to geographic regions with regards to choosing a center of study. Your college can be miles away from your home and you can conveniently attend classes and learn from your home. You do not have to fear about missing classes and learning will continue at your desired pace. Instructor lecturers have been replaced with virtual discussions and students are less hesitant to express their concerns. Customized course work makes learning more focused. Gone are the days when students feared missing lectures since they would have difficulty covering up. Moreover, the online model is more student centered and more engaging than the traditional. These are the most important conveniences related to online learning that have fostered the growth of online learning.

Low costs: This is another important reason that has made online education highly popular among students. The costs of higher education have grown exponentially and rather than taking huge loans to pay for their education, students prefer to opt for other models of learning.  These courses cost much less than the regular classroom courses and the related costs are also lower. There are no costs related to travelling to the campus to attend classes and then no costs related to housing or hostel expenses for students since you do not need to shift to the town where your college is located. Another important benefit that reduces financial pressure on the online learners is that they can do their jobs while attending classes online.

Millenials’ preference: Technology is the first preference of the millenials. They have grown up in an environment where everything is run by and controlled by technology and it is why they find it easier to learn through technological tools. Many of them grow exceptional IT skills right from childhood. Internet and social media are like a playground for them. So, online learning helps them acquire new skills and the best thing is that anyone with a laptop and internet access can easily make use of online resources.

Several other benefits: However, these benefits of online studying are not just limited to costs, time and technology but there are several other small and big benefits too. As a participant you get to be the part of a system that involves thousands of students from inside and outside US. There are no chances of discrimination or bullying as can commonly happen across college and university campuses. No one can discriminate against you based on your color, race, appearance, religion or age and nationality. Even in case of online discussions, you feel less hesitant to express your views and are given enough space to learn and share your learning. It means equal participation and everyone has equal opportunity to learn and interact. Students who like to learn at their own pace find these classes more interesting and effective. Especially, the more introverted and the ones who need visual cues to understand their courses feel more convenient taking classes online. Even if you are a student from outside US that cannot stop you from studying at one of those prestigious US Universities. You do not really need to migrate to study at one of those colleges. Another really great benefit is the free sharing and a high level of interaction between teachers and students. The chances and opportunities of collaboration are also higher in the online environment and each person gets equal opportunity of contributing to the discussions. A higher level of synergy leads to higher effectiveness and better outcomes both for teachers and students.  Online learning has also made it easier to cater to the needs of the adults and those in need of continued education while working. Moreover, the interactive learning environment gives rise to a need for innovative teaching methods and resources. Overall, the level of energy and creativity in this environment is higher.

These were the special benefits of online learning. Apart from these pros there are also some cons associated with the online courses that may need overcoming.

Cons of online education:

Social interaction is limited: Face to face interaction between students and professors is much limited as compared to the campus environment. Especially, in classes where students are free to learn at their own pace, it is difficult to develop strong relationships with your classmates. There are limited chances of getting together offline and networking. Most of the interaction takes place through chat rooms and email. Any face to face interaction is possible only through software like Skype. The social interaction and socialization that grows in the campus environment goes missing online.

Costs and other problems related to technology: When you are studying in an online environment, you do not use the traditional tools. From computer related issues to internet connection and software can all at times become troublesome and require trouble shooting. That makes it essential even for the students to learn special skills. There are costs related to high speed internet and maintenance of computer and software. You will also need to plan your schedule as per your instructor. So, the costs related to technology and the issues related to scheduling can make it difficult to learn conveniently in an online environment.

Other issues related to assessment and instructions: Classroom tools become difficult to apply if not impossible in an online environment and the results of the assessments may also be difficult to measure. So, it becomes a bit difficult to know if the students are really learning what they must be learning. The software used to teach in an online environment has also grown very advanced which means the instructor too might be required to learn new skills to teach online. This becomes problematic for the instructors who are used to teaching using   traditional tools. A very important thing to succeed in an online learning environment is that the student must be focused and self motivated to learn. There is no instructor to watch you and assist you and you do not get the kind of support you get in the class.

Conclusion:

Thus, you can see that there are both pros and cons to online learning. It has generated some great results by making education both affordable and accessible for a larger number of students. It has also made distance learning for prestigious institutions possible for a larger number of students who would otherwise have limited options available to them. In this way, it has led to growth in the number of opportunities for students. However, to consider it a panacea will be wrong and you cannot find the solution to all the problems related to education in the 21st century. It is because there are hurdles too associated with learning in an online environment. Several of the strong points associated with campus environment are missing from online learning. Still, there are great tools that make it easier for the students to learn and instructors to teach.  All of these factors have made it effective and the net of online education has continued to grow. The education technology has also continued to advance making online education more effective. This has brought a growing number of opportunities to the developing world too. Despite there being obstacles, the online courses have become popular and the most important thing facilitating their growth is accessibility. You do not need to migrate to US to take an online course from one of the institutions there. However, it is still difficult to say that if online education is going to be the future of education.  Still, the number of enrollments in online education has kept growing and in a vast number of subject areas, US institutions are successfully delivering courses to online students. This shows that the model has been successful to a large extent, at least in terms of making education more affordable and accessible.

Sources:

https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/digtiallearningcompassenrollment2017info.pdf

http://www.educationdive.com/news/the-growth-of-online-learning-how-universities-must-adjust-to-the-new-norm/433632/

https://www.ies.ncsu.edu/resources/white-papers/pros-and-cons-of-online-education/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/is-online-learning-the-future-of-education/

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/02/report-finds-growth-volatility-online-education-market

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.