The Sloan Consortium—consisting of individuals, instructors, and organizations committed to quality online education—published a study by Babson Survey Research Group on online learning. The study indicated that at least 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall term of 2011, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year. Given these statistics, it is not surprising that the demand for online instructors is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years. Online instructors have entered a transitional phase in teaching due to advances in technology that allow online course work to be delivered more efficiently. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why top schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and many others, are beginning to offer online degree options.
Technology has been a great instigator in promoting the growth of online teaching, but with the demand for online education come complex choices that instructors must face in developing effective online courses. Delivering online instruction is challenging in itself, but other factors make delivering a quality education to students today even more challenging, including teaching in a synchronous versus an asynchronous environment, selecting the most effective communication and collaboration tools compatible with most mobile devices, delivering course presentations in a format designed to retain student attention, creating an engaging dialogue for classroom discussions, and thoroughly understanding your audience. Despite the fact that distance learning has been around since the birth of the correspondence course, it is safe to say that we are currently in the infancy stage of perfecting online education.
Today, all instructors, whether teaching in brick-and-mortar institutions or online, must use a variety of enticing multimedia presentations that speak to students whose attention spans are quickly distracted by other forms of technology. Particularly for those instructors delivering instruction online, this need has branched off from designing and developing eLearning modules in an approach similar to computer animated video games or YouTube videos.
Technology has opened the gates, allowing students from all over the world to participate in college courses offered in an online setting. This allows for a more enriching and diverse classroom environment. It also creates a more challenging atmosphere; teachers are expected not only to instruct a class but also to understand their audience’s multicultural and generational diversity in order to teach students who are at various stages of their lives.
There is an assortment of teaching models and strategies being revised to accommodate these rapidly changing learning environments. In future articles, I will review how the fundamentals of online instruction are changing, the challenges online teachers face due to advances in technology, and the latest eLearning solutions available to enhance both the online teaching and the learning experience.
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