For 15 years, I’ve been strongly committed to educational excellence and creating a positive learning experience in the online environment. The progress made in the distance education community over the past decade is astounding. After all, enrollment in online courses is increasing, and flipped classrooms and hybrid programs are becoming more common.

Bottom line: The nature of learning is changing and we as educators and administrators must keep up.

These days, everything from your social life to banking is online. Online learning is necessary for some, and it’s being adopted at all levels, including K-12, college, and even for certification programs.

Related: Debunked: 8 online learning myths that need to disappear

Although online education has its limitations, there are three benefits that show why e-learning may be the greatest revolution in today’s education.

1. Take flexibility, for example. Online learning allows universities to reach more people who may not have the option to attend classes in person. Students may have to commute long distances or juggle schedules for their kids that prevent their ability to take traditional courses in the classroom. For those going back to school in later years, they likely have jobs that make it impossible to travel for classes, so an online education offers them the opportunity to study whenever it fits into their lives.

2. We know student engagement increases student satisfaction, enhances student motivation to learn, reduces the sense of isolation, and improves student performance in online courses. However, online learners have fewer opportunities to engage with the institution, as building relationships with instructors and classmates requires more effort.

3. Efficiency. Administrators developing and delivering courses should think through the audience, online environment, user experience, and especially the design of course delivery. Take advantage of today’s advanced technology and provide students with the opportunity to be interactive through a discussion forum, blogs, journals, and both video and audio feedback. When it comes to enticing students to be involved and satisfied with their online learning experience, design matters.

Unpacking the challenges of online learning

There is still room for improvement when it comes to online learning, and the industry is quickly creating innovative solutions to continue to improve the success of students’ online education. To help educators get past their apprehensions, I’d like to address three challenges and strategies for overcoming them:

Online-learning challenge #1: Fear of technology

Despite online learning’s convenience, those from older generations going back to school—or instructing—may be doubtful at the thought of relying on technology for an entire course.

What you can do: Professors must have the appropriate training, resources, and even mentors to be able to run an online program smoothly. To avoid online students being anxious about not knowing how to submit a paper or take a test, ensure they have adequate resources. A traditional help desk will be of no assistance to them when they’re studying on the weekend or late at night.

Before a student even enrolls in an online course, assess their technological competency, and if they aren’t equipped to take a specific online course, you’ll know and can provide tools and resources to them ahead of time.

Online-learning challenge #2: Lack of flexibility

Some distance learning programs appear to offer a one-size-fits-all approach and lack a personal approach. This can potentially impact retention.

What you can do: Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence to adjust content to an individual’s needs and combat that one-size-fits-all model. The ability to provide students with their own personalized course, made specifically for their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and engagement patterns is an ideal form of learning.

Online-learning challenge #3: Fear of cheating

Another large concern and challenge of online learning is the increased risk of cheating. Faculty and administrators may feel defeated by the drastic measures students will take to cheat, such as claiming a false identity, but the reality is students who want to cheat are going to find a way to do so.

What you can do: Using remote proctoring solutions can be a reliable way to enhance integrity in today’s online classroom. They are secure and allow students to take exams when it’s convenient for them. Remote proctoring systems have become increasingly sophisticated and are gaining wider consideration for high-stakes testing. When I worked at Columbia University in New York, we used PSI Services and faculty were comfortable delivering these tests because of the exceptional student and administrator experience. Find a remote proctoring solution you trust to include safeguards against cheating.

Related: Here’s what online learning programs do right–and here’s what they can improve

Online learning is now

The global online education market is projected to reach a total market size of $287 billion by 2023, increasing from $159.52 billion in 2017. This continued growth is evidence that innovations in distance education will continue to impact higher education in a positive way. I’m excited to see what’s to come in the future!

About the Author:

Nancy Rubin is the dean of continuing education and distance education at Northwestern Health Sciences University.


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