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The internet has evolved. Today, with the benefit of what commentators call “Internet 2.0”, the question isn’t whether or not it’s possible to create a classroom learning experience with the technology we have. In the fascinating book The No-Significant-Difference Phenomenon, researcher Thomas L. Russell examines more than 300 scientific studies, and he finds no significant difference between in-class and distance learning. As online schools grow and computers continue to progress, the question becomes more subtle: How do we use internet and computer technologies to enrich the learning environment—to go beyond what can be accomplished in the traditional, face-to-face classroom setting? What are the advantages of studying online?
One main advantage of online learning is its long reach. Those who live in rural areas, for instance—as well as single parents, parents who work full time, and other working professionals—often live in places and have schedules that prevent them from returning to school. As an online student, it’s a snap for you to get materials such as homework, exam schedules, and test scores. If you have internet access and a home computer with average capabilities, you’ve got what you need to take part in an online program, and pursue the degree you want. But this is just one way in which online learning is creating positive change in the world of education.
In terms of time of enrollment, online universities have the advantage. For students of traditional universities or colleges, the national average for time spent earning and undergraduate degree is in excess of four years. Undergraduate students of online universities can earn their degrees in far less time (average 2-3 years). The majority of graduate-level online programs make it a point to offer an accelerated format. But whatever your level of study, you have the flexibility to work at the pace you want.
Another benefit of online learning is the robust level of conversation enabled by class discussion boards and student chat rooms. Of course, classroom learning affords this opportunity as well, but few professors take advantage of the chance to join students in a discussion of current topics. With the non-threatening access offered by a class chat room, online professors themselves are more readily available, and students—some of who would be hindered by shyness or reservations about public speaking—have the chance to take part. In the online environment, you can not only discuss and resolve issues that arise in class, but engage your fellow students, discover the way other students think about problems, and have effective dialogue.
Earning a degree at a traditional college or university can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Online degrees can be earned for a lot less money. Not only less, but with the same loan and grant benefits that are offered elsewhere. Online schools and universities offer the same competitive financial aid packages that are available to students of traditional schools.