Guest Post: Quality Of Online Schools Is Compared And Questioned Against Their Traditional Counterparts

Online education has been a hot topic in recent years as more people, particularly Millennials, are turning to it as an alternative way of learning. Technology is changing the possibilities for education, and crowdsourced courses are even available, which tap into a Millennial mindset of collaborative learning. However, online courses can also have drawbacks and often aren't considered as credible as traditional education. Estelle Shumann, a writer at OnlineSchools.org, a resource for digital education, discusses the debate and how online education is expected to evolve.

Guest Post: Quality Of Online Schools Is Compared And Questioned Against Their Traditional Counterparts

Online EducationOnline schooling is growing extremely rapidly. At the current rate, students who are enrolled in at least one online class will reach 50% of the total student population before 2020. At the same time, recent studies have concluded that virtual classrooms have some significant disadvantages over their traditional counterparts. With the field growing quickly, it is important to address the concerns regarding quality of online education today.

Already, a significant number of students are taking or have taken online courses. According to green news service smartplanet, the growth rate of online education continues at an astronomical 10% per year. This figure is over ten times the growth rate of education overall. Now, out of a total 20 million students, over 5 million are taking at least one online class. In 2011, 560,000 more students took an online course than in the previous year.

The lack of a physical campus has some drawbacks, but can also lead to a number of advantages. Costs are significantly reduced, for one thing. Lectures can reach and engage students across the globe. Course materials can be purchased online, usually at reduced cost, and students also have more advanced tools for collaboration, including forums, discussion groups, and other technical tools. Coursera, for example, a new educational platform that offers streaming courses for free, has experimented with interrupting video lectures with pop quizzes, so that students can assess their understanding of the material. The potential for online learning tools has only begun to be explored.

Traditional programs want to apply their standards to assess online programs, as opposed to allowing online programs to develop their own, unique assessments. Many in academia argue that the increase in online education has taken a bite out of the traditional education system. If the two are seen as competitors, then the standards measuring them should be the same.

If some physical institutions had their way, online education would be exposed as inferior. Online programs suffer from a number of drawbacks, including low retention rates, bad reputations, and poor student support networks. Attrition is the biggest issue here. According to a 2011 article published in the Insight Into Student Services Journal, attrition rates are 10-20% higher online than in the real world, meaning that the likelihood that online students will finish the class/semester/program is significantly lower. Moreover, that difference is difficult for students to understand and take into account when choosing their education.

On the other hand, assessments for traditional universities do not measure some of the best qualities of online programs. For instance, the added convenience of virtual classrooms allows students to pursue full-time employment while attending school. For many students, online education may be the only option. By measuring online programs by brick-and-mortar standards, online programs would be at a disadvantage, leading to poor reputations. Graduates would suffer in an already-tight job market with degrees that mean less.

It's an important time for online classes, as many are developing their own standards for assessment, or learning how to advocate their position. For others, the focus may be on developing student services that lower attrition rates. Regardless, students and parents must grapple with questions of purpose. Determining what college is for, an experience or a certification, is often very helpful. They must also decide how to evaluate the attrition rate in order to make a choice that makes the most sense for their own individual situation.

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