What Are The Benefits Of Online Learning

Advances in technology are allowing students to get off campus and into the classroom. Here’s what they can expect.

This is a response to a recent article by Mark Grafton. To be clear, Mark is a contributor for our site.

Starting Tuesday, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia asked all incoming students to take a web-based course in order to become better global citizens, and then a college professor challenges them to take that course and help others. This is clear evidence that the challenges of globalization and the growing influence of technology are the opposite of being “less well equipped” to compete. The essay we were discussing (in our blog) reflects basic but important misunderstandings about online learning.

The best description of how online learning works can be found in the first paragraph of the the recent article by Mark Grafton.

“In this new age of connectivity, the world is no longer a giant island. To practice global citizenship and compete in a world economy, you need to learn to make sure that it reflects your values and to do so, you need to have a global cultural experience,” the president wrote in an email to all students.

Grafton asks how some students will learn to teach a course that he considers educationalally questionable. This is a clear distillation of the problems with what we mean by online learning.

Online learning is most definitely not a proxy for classroom learning. It is, in fact, a genre of learning that combines much more than teaching material with real-time experiential learning.

Learning, as defined by the National Education Association (NEA), includes “acquiring knowledge and skills, understanding and articulating opinions, developing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, developing and applying knowledge, understanding and connecting with others in their network, and undertaking creative, hands-on and active activities.”

Today’s students do not learn to teach; they learn to teach. It is their role to develop the skills, the critical thinking, and the ability to reach and engage a diverse and engaged audience. If the skill to do this involves participating in real time, interacting with fellow students, reviewing material with a peer, or taking a class with real-time feedback and assignments, then online learning is the actual learning medium.

First of all, modern online learning is not dramatically different from any other form of learning. Second, it is a form of learning that is often misunderstood, for one big reason: most online learning products emphasize standing up front in front of the room and lecturing students about the language of education. In the end, that’s only one aspect of education, not the very center of it.

Young people do not learn to teach. Instead, they have a litany of opportunities to engage in valuable hands-on and experiential learning. Online learning can fulfill that role effectively. They do it best in interactive spaces where lessons can be acted upon through a variety of opportunities to make real world decisions. It is also where students’ learning is most universally accessible.

Finally, it is important to understand that much of the criticism leveled at the online version of the course the Georgetown president wanted to have students take is exactly the same attack that would have been leveled at the real thing. In an era when it’s a hot topic to deride the resources on campus available to students, it’s rare to see these educational resources without opposition.

In the context of current events, the president’s request is appropriately directed toward our students, but it is also useful to think about how it applies to your students at other institutions. Imagine that the next president decides he wants all students to become better global citizens. It’s hard to find examples of that happening at now. Fortunately, it’s not hard to imagine it happening at a future Georgetown.

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