In a recent article from Higher EdSurge, The Power of Choice: Why it Matters to Students, authors Jaime Hannans, Jill Leafstedt and Michelle Pacansky-Brock explore what is drawing more and more college and university students to online learning.
One of the most significant benefits for students is convenience. Most who have experienced a “traditional” college experience- living, eating and learning on campus- fail to see the challenges associated with attaining a degree in a non-traditional way. The reality is, over one third of today’s college students is over the age of 25. More than 50 percent are working and 25 percent have kids. For students with additional responsibilities, commuting to campus is not always easy. Meeting with professors during their scheduled office hours can conflict with other work or family obligations.
Online learning doesn’t eliminate these challenges, but it can ease the transition for mature, working-age students, who are constrained by work and family obligations but would like to pursue a college degree or credential. However, the challenge for Higher Ed leaders is how to deliver an effective, high-quality learning experience that is equal to or better than the on-campus, face-to face experience.
One emerging solution is sophisticated adaptive learning platforms that integrate with leading Learning Management Systems. These platforms enable instructional design teams and educators to develop highly effective online learning experiences that can improve degree attainment, indicating to students how they’re progressing in their course and showing professors, in real time, where and when students are having trouble with course material. Embedded in each learning activity are robust hints and feedback to help keep students on track while they are studying alone. It’s almost like providing a personal tutor to each student. The help and feedback is there when needed, but is unobtrusive otherwise. In addition, adaptive learning can help educators more quickly identify students who may lack the necessary pre-requisite knowledge, or on the opposite end of the continuum, already possess enough prior knowledge to be able to speed through the learning objectives more quickly.
Online learning also gives students both the flexibility to work through course material at their own pace, when and where it is most convenient, while also providing opportunities to connect outside the classroom through group discussions and activities. For mature or first-generation students who are not used to the traditional learning experience, they are able to gain confidence in the virtual classroom, speaking with classmates and easily contacting the professor for assistance when it’s needed.
As the picture of the typical college student changes, educators and administrative leaders see the need to develop more flexible and high-quality learning options for students balancing work and family priorities. Online learning, specifically combined with adaptive learning technology, can be the accelerator that helps students from all backgrounds reach their best possible outcomes.