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Instructional methods, course requirements, and learning technologies can vary significantly from one online program to the next, but the vast bulk of them use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver lectures and materials, monitor student progress, assess comprehension, and accept student work. While some courses deliver live lectures using video conferencing tools (zoom, Meet, Google Classroom, etc.), others allow students to download pre-recorded lectures and use message boards to discuss topics. Instructors may also incorporate simulations, games, and other engagement-boosters to enhance learning.
Online education may seem relatively new, but years of research suggests it can be just as effective as traditional coursework, and often more so. According to a U.S. Department of Education analysis of more than 1,000 learning studies, online students tend to outperform classroom-based students across most disciplines and demographics. Another major review published the same year found that online students had the advantage 70 percent of the time, a gap authors projected would only widen as programs and technologies evolve.
Choosing the right degree program takes time and careful research no matter how one intends to study. Learning styles, goals, and programs always vary, but students considering online colleges must consider technical skills, ability to self-motivate, and other factors specific to the medium. A number of colleges and universities have developed assessments to help prospective students determine whether they are prepared for online learning. Online course demos and trials can also be helpful, particularly if they are offered by schools of interest.
All new learning innovations are met with some degree of scrutiny, but skepticism subsides as methods become more mainstream. Such is the case for online learning. Studies indicate employers who are familiar with online degrees tend to view them more favorably, and more employers are acquainted with them than ever before. The majority of colleges now offer online degrees, including most public, not-for-profit, and Ivy League universities. Online learning is also increasingly prevalent in the workplace as more companies invest in web-based employee training and development programs.
Online learning platforms are typically designed to be as user-friendly as possible: intuitive controls, clear instructions, and tutorials guide students through new tasks. However, students still need basic computer skills to access and navigate these programs. These skills include: using a keyboard and a mouse; running computer programs; using the Internet; sending and receiving email; using word processing programs; and using forums and other collaborative tools. Most online programs publish such requirements on their websites.
Students who do not meet a program’s basic technical skills requirements are not without recourse. Online colleges frequently offer classes and simulations that help students establish computer literacy before beginning their studies. Microsoft’s online digital literacy curriculum is one free resource.
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