Online Learning – An Effective Way of Getting Educated

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The Internet is more than a way to look up Web pages of suppliers, travel agents, and retailers. It has become a whole new way to further education, both formal and informal.

Such education, called e-Learning, allows organizations and individuals the opportunity to progress at a pace that is comfortable for the student, while fitting into his or her daily work schedule.

Companies such as Nabisco, Raytheon, and McGraw-Hill use e-Learning as a means to help educate their work forces. For these organizations, Web-based education provides their employees an opportunity to improve their productivity, capabilities, and job performance in a format that is compatible with most schedules.

For individuals, e-Learning allows them the opportunity to grow and improve their job standing and marketability, while not taking too much time away from work and family life.

Web-based learning can be separated into several categories:

o Professional courses for continuing education or graduate credit

o Professional courses simply to learn a new skill or to improve an existing one

o Training courses, sponsored by the employer, designed to improve an employee’s skills

o Courses taken for the sake of learning something new, disregarding all credits.

Credit courses

Continuing education and graduate credit courses are offered by myriad universities and professional organizations. Many independent study courses, which were previously offered through various departments, are now accessible via the Internet.

For starters, the University of California at Los Angeles, The University of Michigan, Seton Hall University, San Diego State University, and The Ohio State University are just a handful of the universities offering classes via the Internet.

Eastern Michigan University started its online programs 3 years ago with 100 students in 14 classes. Today, the school has more than 700 students taking such classes, and continuing education director Kathy Randles says that more than 100 students are on waiting lists because enrollment is full in many of the classes.

For those who simply want to develop new skills, many Web sites are offering Internet courses covering everything from Windows 2000 secrets to efficient use of palm-top computers. For instance, Headlight.com offers courses that prepare users for certification exams or improving basic skills.

Other sites that offer such courses include Trainingnet.com, Smartplanet.com, and Hungryminds.com. These sites offer a variety of courses designed to help students better their skills.

Employers offer courses

Employer training courses obviously vary by employer. However, they are generally set up by a consultant or manager and designed to provide employees education at a cost that is relatively low for the employer. For instance, Nabisco produces e-Learning programs that are about 50% of the cost of the industry average. Included in this savings is the reduction in costs associated with printing large employee manuals those are done electronically.

Finally, Internet courses are available that allow students to bone up on skills that may or may not be related to their work. For instance, Learn2.com, while offering a variety of business courses, also has tutorials on a variety of subjects, including how to tie knots, make sushi, train your dog, and research your family tree.

Which Ways Online Education can be Useful?

First of all, each site differs somewhat, but most operate somewhat similarly. A “class” will consist of an instructor and up to 20 students. The instructor is usually an experienced professional in the field; however, most university courses are taught by professors. The students will have backgrounds that vary greatly-it is not uncommon for all 20 students in a class to come from 20 different states!

The big difference between online learning and conventional classes is that you will have no classroom to go to. You will have dialogues with your instructor and the other students, however, these will be mostly by e-mail or in chat rooms. Your course will have a schedule, but much of that schedule revolves around your convenience. You decide when you want to “attend” class, read lectures, and ask or answer questions. The only deadlines are when your coursework is due.

When communicating in your online course, you generally have two options: posting your comments on a bulletin board for the entire class to see, or privately e-mailing them to the instructor or classmate of your choice.

Most online educators request that you check your e-mail at least once a day to ensure you don’t fall behind in your coursework; the caveat of online learning is that it is independent study and does require discipline.

In fact, course managers and administrative personnel with the site will often contact you if they notice you have missed picking up a lecture.

Online learning differs from the correspondence courses of the past because there is actual interaction between students. Correspondence courses require you to read material and answer questions based on what you have read. Online education has the same guidelines; however, you can bounce some ideas off another student perhaps 1,000 miles away to get a different perspective on your thoughts.

In addition, an advantage of e-Learning is that students are not limited by the proximity of the class to their homes. For instance, a student in San Diego who cannot find an appropriate class in that area can take classes at Eastern Michigan University without having to worry about navigating the 2,000-mile trip.

Online students should expect to spend about 10 to 15 hours per week on their coursework. This will, of course, vary depending on the subject matter, but there is a commitment involved.

The nice thing is you can spend those hours when you want to and not have to commute to a classroom at a specific time.

Self-study courses

Many Web sites also offer pure self-study courses. These courses are not led by an instructor. Instead, the student will have access to materials posted on the site and will test on the information covered after studying it. Most often, these courses cover subject matter where a certification is not needed-students taking these courses are generally taking them for the information value only.

Usually, self-study courses are free, or at the least, very inexpensive.

For someone who is interested in personal development, e-Learning is an ideal option to study without having the added concerns of scheduling, commuting, or logistics.

The prospects are there. But the commitment must be strong. You will be on your own, and what you learn will be up to you.