Guest opinion: Online learning equals virtual success

Chicago Tribune | April 1, 2016 - Earlier this year, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education released an alarming figure. More than 750,000 Indiana residents, or about 22 percent of the state's working-age adults, have attended some college, but, due to various circumstances, quit before completing their degrees.

The value of a degree has never been greater or more attainable, thanks to advances in technology. There is no better time than now to support your family, and your dreams, by investing in a college degree.

One way to do so is through online learning, which provides all students the convenience that fits their busy, highly complex lives.

Online students have the flexibility and freedom to review material, take tests and collaborate with their peers on their own schedules, rather than during a fixed class period that may compete with family time and work obligations.

Convenient, no doubt, but the foundation of distance education is built on more than simple accessibility. The technology provides an interactive, personalized and engaging environment that aids comprehension and retention, and enhances the educational and learning experience.

Through group-based projects, students are immersed into a learning environment that encourages partnerships and naturally emulates the collaborative relationships found in the professional world. Weekly student participation and collaboration has become a standard for online courses.

Critical thinking, problem-solving and information technology skills are further tested and refined, preparing students for the needs and expectations of the 21st-Century workplace.

And, face-to-face, video interaction, a critical component of distance education, is made possible with computers, tablets and smartphones. Students desiring even more direct contact with their professors and peers can enroll in hybrid courses, offering virtual and in-person classroom experiences and assignments.

With so many advantages, it is not surprising that interest in online education has grown significantly. In fact, more than one in four American students, roughly 5.8 million, are now taking at least one distance education course, according to the Online Learning Consortium.

At Indiana University Northwest, we too have seen a spike in online learning. In the last 10 years, there has been a 70 percent increase in online course offerings and enrollments.

Much of this growth has to do with our region's students, "adult" learners who need accessible, flexible education provided in a way that is incorporated into their already busy lives. But interest also stems from students recognizing the online environment enhances their educational experience, and their overall success.

For instance, a recent IU Northwest online statistics course experienced an 11 percent higher pass rate, than the same course offered in-person. And, six students who failed the in-person course enrolled online and earned either a B or C grade.

Students are earning better grades not because the content is easier, but because the pedagogy allows for students to take and re-take assessments with their instructors until they pass.

Recognizing the great potential and possibilities, IU Northwest remains committed to the continuous development of high-quality online courses and programs that meet the same high standards and expectations that guide classroom-based instruction.

Through IU Northwest's Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching and Learning (CISTL) faculty are trained with proven principles of effective online instruction. Courses developed through CISTL are peer-reviewed and closely evaluated to ensure quality instruction.

As the region's university, it is imperative that we adapt our curriculum to meet the learning needs, interests and packed schedules of the contemporary college student. Our highest priority is to enable the students of Northwest Indiana to have a transformative experience that provides the full value of a college degree.

In a time when the average income for Northwest Indiana employees has fallen, now is the time to reflect on how you can further your goals. Information technology can help to advance your future and empower your success.

 

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune