What it is: Online education has been touted for its ability to bring education to anyone regardless of location.
In the old days, education was limited. If you wanted to attend college, you had to move to that particular college. Even worse, colleges taught certain classes at certain its of the day, which meant if you wanted to take a class, you not only had to live near the classroom, but you also had to make time to attend that class, usually during the day. This kept working adults out of college for the longest time.
Online education promised to change all that. Not only could online education provide education to anyone who had Internet access, but it gave that person the freedom to watch videos of classroom lectures on their own schedule. Whether you worked at night or during the day, you could get an education in practically any subject whenever you wanted.
However, online education has one huge drawback. It requires massive motivation to finish. When you’re all by yourself, learning on your own, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. That’s why completion rates for online courses are horribly low. That’s also why some online programs are looking to open physical classrooms.
To encourage more people to complete courses, Udacity, one of the pioneers of online education, is experimenting with physical classrooms where students can meet with a tutor and fellow classmates. The idea is that learning with others and meeting regularly with tutors and classmates makes learning easier so you don’t feel so alone and isolated, and you can get help from others.
This brings back the question of education in general. What’s the best way to learn, online or offline? The answer seems to be a combination of both. Purely online learning is great for highly motivated students, but risks making students feel isolated. Offline learning in a physical classroom requires setting aside time and moving to the location of the classroom, but offers support to help you et through the course.
Most likely the combination of the two will prove most effective. Online learning can help students learn on their own time and convenience, while regular offline meetings with people in your immediate area can help encourage students to complete their courses.
What likely won’t happen is that offline education alone will make a magical comeback. Nor will online learning completely replace and dominate education. There’s a place for both online and offline education, and definitely a place for a combination of the two. What matters most is that students can get the education they want at an affordable price with the best possible chance of completing their courses.