Why Online Learning Is Increasing In Today’s Education

By Lena Shayura
Thirteen years ago, David Harris hit the jackpot, as a History graduate student at Washington State University, he landed a full-time professorship and a sweet deal: a $90,000 salary and more than $200,000 in grant money. The terms of his contract put him in the ultra-competitive world of teaching, but on paper, the deal looked pretty good.

Why Online Learning Is Increasing In Today's Education

The turnaround for an education program is a matter of days.

The other day, I was teaching an online course that prepared me for a job interview. I was focused on “making connections between learning and living” — and I felt every one of my previous applications prepare me for that opportunity.

But what I didn’t realize until nearly the end of the day, I have been doing this for nearly two years.

Online learning has come a long way in a very short time.

In the early days, what passed for distance learning was C-SPAN. Now, “distance learning” is all the rage, and the thirst for distance learning courses is on the rise.

It’s not just lower costs or connecting to people far away. The digital change that I was referring to in that opening sentence didn’t just come with the advent of free or free-ish content. That change came with the advent of widespread broadband and the ability to view multiple video feeds at once.

We learned how to study the rocks and shorelines of the valley by looking at photos. We learned to understand the world we walked the path and used landmarks as markers on maps.

Distance learning is about embedding yourself in the learning and encouraging that sense of immersion to happen. The first and most obvious reason why distance learning works is because of the accessibility. An entire network of teachers can send your course in the hands of potential employers from wherever they are.

The second reason is that distance learning forces teachers to be more savvy. They do more organizing and hand-holding. In this way, you have a central, centralized place for career development. And employers like it.

It was truly by happenstance that my course ended up being about the main skill that employers value most, the ability to connect with people. I’ve taught across many different lines of work and have found that finding and relating to people was one of the most important skills anyone was looking for in my field.

It also turns out that there’s evidence to show that people with that skill are more employable. But what isn’t necessarily quantifiable is how well they’re doing in their classes or in their lives. Those are things we can count on.

We don’t know that much about how well people are learning in these online classes. But there are a lot of reports out there now about which online learning programs are effective.

Generally, they tend to fall into two categories: for hire and home learning.

For hire are programs designed to get you jobs. An example of that would be courses in skill-building at Carnegie Mellon or the University of Chicago.

For home learning, the goals are different but in the same spirit.

People are using online learning to push themselves to learn new things, to become more independent and self-reliant. It’s not about finding your ideal new job, though there’s a lot of interest in that question. It’s about finding the confidence you need to go into the world and set out on your own. That kind of independence is really a new idea today.

There are plenty of jobs out there waiting for the right way to fit your skills and not your home life. So take advantage of them by learning things, taking classes, connecting with new people and just rolling up your sleeves and doing it.

About the author: The author of this story has taught at the center of the journey from CDI online to now. Lauren was part of a research team that profiled 10 pioneering online graduate programs. You can hear more from their conversation here.

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