Due to increased demand for education, education institutions have diversified their modes of education delivery for them to meet learner demands. Flexible learning methods give learners best learning opportunities, where by they can learn from wherever they may be. Depending on programs learners choose, each has flexible study modes, which will ensure education helps to alleviate human problems, within specific settings and conditions. Online education is currently the most flexible learning methodology because learners can get education from any place in the world. Online education has many advantages as well as some disadvantages. However, having gone through the same system (online education), I have enjoyed learning online and consider it a very good learning experience. This paper will endeavor to look at the benefits of the US online education that is very popular in the 21st century. In addition, the disadvantages, challenges and strategies for improving online education will be discussed.
Online education is a type of learning or teaching that occurs through a computer network. The presently existing computer networks are local bulletin board systems (BBS), local area networks (LAN), worldwide internet, and intranet (commonly occurs within specific organizations). In the past, educators referred this method of education delivery as “computer mediated communication” (CMC), which included many other learning applications. Online education applies electronic mails as the main communication mode. In addition, some institutions use teleconferencing through computer networks, which provides learners on a network to take part in online chatting (Kelsey & Eberts, 2003, p. 1-10)
Importance of online education
Quality education provision is necessary for sustainability and well-being of any country. The U.S. always aims to increase literacy levels of its citizens through educational provision. The online degrees not only do they meet the increasing education demand but also helps to promote skill development among professionals. Majority of the working population have enrolled in online education due to its flexibility and efficiency in meeting their demands. This method of education gives majority of individual chances to read while working. The U.S. department of education main aim is to develop a cohort of students with skills that meet the current economic demands. In addition, the department always endeavors to grant all learners equal learning opportunities hence, the increased rate of online education (Dalziel, 2009, Para. 1-2).
Increasing numbers of enrollments in online programs clearly demonstrate many advantages associated with the system. From statistics, currently more than 4 million learners have enrolled in online programs in U.S. higher learning institutions. Online education is currently the most learning mode opted by many learners due to flexibility and easiness of online programs. Online programs have enabled majority of people to multitask. For example, majority of professionals have families that they must attend to, many traveling schedules, and other commitments. Online programs give them an opportunity to learn from anywhere, because all they require is just a laptop with internet connection. This offers learners convenience unlike the traditional mode of classroom delivery where learners have to attend classes for learning to take place. On the other hand, online education requires a person who is committed and a good manager of time. This is because in online education tutors do not follow up their students to see if they have finished assignments or attended classes. Tutors may also not be able to assess whether the students have understood the lesson due to lack of one-on-one interaction. A student may therefore lag behind and take a long time to finish a course (Benefits and Disadvantages of online Learning, 2009, para. 10). In addition, students who do not know how to set their priorities right may end up doing all other activities at the expense of learning. However, the flexibility offered by the online education gives many people who have tight schedules an opportunity to learn whenever they can find time.
Online courses have enhanced provision of education to majority of international students. Majority of international students enjoy the flexibility of such programs, because in most cases online education reduces educational expenses (Dalziel, 2009, Para. 2).
Depending on an institution’s preference, resources, and articles, different U.S. learning institutions use varying modes of online education. The most common type is live communications (sometimes referred as synchronous electronic learning). In this method, learners and their tutors communicate at the same time. This gives majority of learners an opportunity to seek clarification on material and course content. On the other hand, online learning offers limited feedback. Yet, the most important aspect of the learning process is to get productive as well as creative feedback from tutors and fellow students. Online education is not always conducive for providing students with feedback. Sometimes the tutors may not be available for live chats with their students thus a student may not get a feedback when they need one. In addition, a student may not fully understand or appreciate the feedback given online because it is not given in person. Therefore, a student may fail to get an opportunity to seek clarification of the feedback due to lack of person-to-person interaction. Moreover, online learning occurs via internet communications through mails; hence, they lack the teacher-student interaction that teachers may need to ascertain learners’ levels of content mastery. Majority of learners under this programs lack the required oral skills during presentation of ideas learnt. Students therefore fail to acquire communication skills that are gained through interactions from tutors and classmates (Disadvantages of online degrees, 2009, Para.7-8). Nevertheless, online education students can always look for ways to understand the information given to them by their tutors by putting in a little more effort and still make the most of online education.
MUD and MOOs
Common forms of live learning are virtual classrooms, online discussions and sometimes video or audio conferencing (Curran, 2004, p.2-3). In addition, there are electronic mails and teleconferencing, some institutions use improved methods of online education namely: MUD and MOOs. Majority of these programs are for group interactions and discussions using slides and electronic white boards. Generally online education gives learners an opportunity of using electronic databases inform of manuscripts and multimedia internet sites. This facilitates exchange of information between learners and tutors through data transfers (Kearsley, 1998, Para 5-7).
Asynchronous online learning method
Other institutions use asynchronous methods of online education also referred as forward electronic learning. This method has no direct communications between learners and tutors; learners access course materials online. The most common forms of asynchronous learning used by majority of institutions are self-paced classes, email communications and sending of assignments by tutors to groups for discussion. The advantage of using asynchronous methods online is that students get a fair learning ground. This is because learners do not interact personally with their tutors and fellow students thus, no judgments made because of gender, ethnicity, race or even physical appearance. Students’ evaluation is purely based on their academic performance shown on their assignments as well as their tests. They are also evaluated depending on the comments they make on the course material. This levels the playing field for all students and they are able to learn comfortably without the worry of being judged wrongly or unfairly (Benefits and Disadvantage of Online Learning, 2009, Fair playing Field, para. 1). This education mode also has helped to eliminate discriminations that existed previously among whites and black Americans. This is because it considers neither ethnic background nor physical or learner’s disabilities. Online discussions are purely free from any social cultural biasness. On the contrary, this type of leaning can lead to isolation and frustration. This is because a student does not have the opportunity to learn in an environment where he or she can interact with fellow students to make learning easier and enjoyable. Therefore, some students may find the online learning experience too lonely and some might give up due to lack of moral and emotional support. In spite of the loneliness, that one might face online education is enjoyable due to the many opportunities that a student can look for to interact with tutors and fellow students thus reducing the loneliness brought about by isolation.
To curb the problem of lack of interaction majority of American online degrees have greater student-tutor engagements. This is because students under these programs must participate in online discussions and learners have unlimited time to consult their tutors whenever need arises. It is also important to note that the tutors cannot always be available whenever students need them. In addition, students have increased faculty attention from both their mentors and support staff. Majority of U.S. faculty staff are dedicated and specialized in providing mentoring skills to students. These programs have open opportunities that foster group work hence; faculties give learners opportunities to choose programs that suit them (Kaplan, 2009, Para. 1-5).
Blended online learning
To make sure that learning institutions meet learners’ needs, some institutions have introduced the blended learning methodology. This method is often called the mixed mode, because it uses both the traditional method (face-to-face tutorials), and online methods, for example discussion boards, email, and examinations. This methodology is the best and the most successful in online education; because, learners receive the required guidance and support in their learning. In addition, this methodology gives tutors a chance to evaluate their learners hence, offer the required assistance. For example from research conducted in the University of California to evaluate the importance of various online education methodology, showed that blended learning gave learners best results and learning opportunities (Curran, 2004, pp.2-4).
Although online education is gaining popularity and rapidly expanding in the U.S., it has some associated cons. Majority of American industries give less credit to degrees got via online programs. This is because skill acquisition in online programs is primarily theoretical hence most learners lack experiences needed in working environments. In addition, online education faces the challenge of fraud. In recent past increasing rates of fraud have rocked online education. Even the U.S. department of Education accepts that the rate is increasing hence, need of implementation of better strategies to curb the vice. On the other hand, most of U.S. online programs lack accreditation from respective bodies, hence leading to increase in fraud cases (Disadvantages of online degrees, 2009, Para.7-8). However, this should not discourage people from seeking online education because there are genuine colleges offering online education. To ensure that the U.S. online education meets educational set standards and quality, U.S. has accreditation bodies, which ascertain online education standards; hence, give recommendations to institutions. Accreditation helps institutions to determine the validity of programs they are offering. The whole process involves extensive analysis of institutions’ policies, methodologies, courses and systems. These accreditations have helped to protect student’s rights, by ensuring that all learning institutions adhere to required educational standards. In addition, this process guarantees students flexibility in credit transfers, for students want to continue their studies (Deane, 2005, p. 17-25).
Access of information
Online programs have course materials that are easily available at all time. Majority of colleges upgrade their information databases frequently, hence giving learners an added advantage of accessing recent innovations in their study fields. In addition, students have opportunities to go through their lecture and discussion material at their own pace and convenience. On the other hand, students may put off their work for longer periods because they determine their learning pace unlike in traditional classroom setting where the learning period is cut out. This has led to some online students taking very long periods to finish courses that they would have in a shorter time had they been in a traditional classroom.
Provision of learning opportunities to marginalized learners
Online programs offer learners unlimited study opportunities. In terms of learning opportunities some institutions in marginalized zones for example Bismarck Dakota, lack some important courses. Therefore, online programs give learners equal learning opportunities both locally and internationally (Pan American Corporation, 2008, p.1).
A Meta analysis conducted by U.S. department of education showed that, majority of student under the online programs performed better than their counterparts who were attending traditional classroom settings. In addition, the blending of online methodologies has enhanced education delivery to learners due to provision of more learning opportunities (Jaschik, 2009, Para. 1-3).
On the other hand, the application of technology in online education offers learners opportunities to control their learning. Manipulation of technology instruments by learners offers them an opportunity to gain additional knowledge in information technology on top of their areas of specialization. From studies, active participation of learners helps learners to deeply reflect, gauge and control their understanding abilities.
In addition to quality education and access to more opportunities online learning has proved more economical to majority of U.S learners as compared to campus based education. Although learners incur surfing expenses, they are far much less as compared with campus based expenditures. Learners in these programs in most cases do not pay lecture fees, electricity, and other requirements, which students under programs pay (Head, 2009, Para. 1-4). As James argues, this methodology does not require any isolated distribution machinery. Online teaching only requires tutors to post their notes in the internet where learners can access them easily. In addition, it gives tutors installation options in terms internet material access, hence improved management of plug-ins and bandwidths (2002, Para.1-2).
Student support services
U.S.’s colleges offering online programs must have student support services, in order to meet special learner-learning demands. All colleges offering online degrees must provide their students with library materials, counseling and proper guidance on their education. Conversely, it is difficult for colleges to provide facilities such as gyms, libraries, study areas, student stores to their students online. Therefore, online education does not always provide helpful tools to enable the learners have an effective learning experience. (Disadvantages of Online Learning, 2007, para. 7). Nonetheless, some colleges give their online students access to their online libraries that enables them to handle their assignment and tests effectively.
Colleges offering online education support their, international students, by doing orientations via electronic media or physical orientations. In addition, support services help students to gain the required expertise in network handling, and running of computer programs. During examinations, student support centers guide students on procedures to follow, to ensure they obtain the best results (Dalziel, 2009, Para. 9-11).
Challenges facing U.S. online Education
Although the U.S. department of higher education always struggles to maintain its online education standards in provision and dissemination, it faces challenges, which require intervention measures.
Online study programs occur in isolation, which majority of individuals considers an isolated mode of education. This hinders social skill development in learners because the only interaction time they have is during online discussions. This methodology lacks primary communication signals such as tonal variations and eye contact between learners and tutors. Communication cues are important in teaching because they help tutors to gauge learners’ understanding. On the other hand, learners, become independent because they control the learning. This helps them to live responsibly when on their own.
Continuous changes in technology also posses a big threat to online education. Learners face many challenges in terms of acquiring required learning gadgets, which programs may dictate. In addition, to students from low social economic families cannot afford them, this poses great challenges to their acquisition of knowledge via the online methodology (Challenges of online education, 2009, Para. 15-17).
Another major threat to online education is continuous increasing fraud cases in online education. Some individuals are posting themselves as U.S. education representatives; hence solicit money from innocent foreign citizens who want to pursue online degrees in America U.S. This prompted the government to launch officially the mortgage fraud prevention, an online course that creates awareness of on online education frauds (Richardson, 2006, Para. 1-4)
Strategies of Improving Online Education
To eliminate many obstacles and challenges facing online education the U.S. educational department has recently come up strategies that guide online education provision. The U.S. office of inspector general helps the department to meet its goals through continuous audits and inspections of online programs. Due to increasing numbers of imposters, who pretend to be U.S. education representatives, the office of inspector general has measures of dealing with imposters through collaboration with the police (Office of inspector General, 2009, Para. 1-4).
Majority of U.S. learning institutions have integrated their online programs with Webtrends and Tetradata, in order to enhance delivery. This companies help institutions to disseminate information to learners in a more convenient and accurate ways. Through integrations, many learners presently get direct mailings and are able to chat more conveniently with their instructors and other learners (Webtrends, 2009, Para. 1-5).
Due to financial strains and withdrawal of some key supporters of online education, the educational department has implemented measures in higher education institutions. These measures are to ensure, institutions remain in focus using the limited resources available (Parry, 2009, Para. 3-6).
In conclusion, U.S. online education has undergone many transitions due to developments in technologies. Currently learners can easily access education via the internet; hence, higher learning institutions should adopt measures, which will ensure the mode maintains education standards. Higher learning institutions can achieve this through adoption of better and efficient technologies, innovations in instructional methodologies and providing incentives to learners from low social economic backgrounds. In addition, to ensure U.S. online educations receives global credit; the education department should adopt effective marketing strategies. This will ensure that education seekers have extensive interactions and enough and correct information about it.
Allen, E. and Seaman, J. (2006). Making the grade: online education in the United States of America. Web.
Benefits and disadvantages of online learning. (2009). Web.
Challenges facing U.S. online education. (2009). Virtual student. Web.
Curran, C. (2004). Strategies for E-learning in universities. Web.
Dalziel, C. (2009). Online in the United States. Study oversees. Web.
Dean, S. (2005). Online education: is it for you? Bloomington, Indiana: Author house.
Disadvantages and advantages of U.S. online degrees. Education online. Web.
Head, K. S. (2009). U.S.: online education’s outrageous fortune. University world news. Web.
James, G. (2002). Advantages and disadvantages of online learning. Communication initiative network. Web.
Jaschik, S. (2009). The evidence on online education. Inside higher education. Web.
Kaplan, J. (2009). U.S. department of education finds online learning has advantages over traditional classrooms. ACHS news. Web.
Kearsley, G. (1998). A guide to online education. Web.
Kelsey, R. and Eberts, M. (2003). Careers for cyber surfers and other online types (2nd edition). New York: McGraw-Hill
Office of inspector general. (2009). Scholarship telemarketing fraud scheme. U.S. department of education. Web.
Pan American Corporation. (2008). Online education. USA education. Web.
Parry, M. (2009). Online education, growing fast, eyes the truly big time. The chronicle. Web.
Richardson, S. M. (2006). Official launch of mortgage fraud prevention on online education. PRlog press. Web.
Sloan-C. (2008). Staying the course: online education in the United States. Web.