Friday, October 14, 2011

Six Factors Driving Online Enrollments

RedwoodsImage by proper dave via FlickrThis was the article that I wrote for the Times-Standard's Tech Beat:

Many students are taking online classes at College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University. Even though online learning is called “distance learning,” the majority of our online students are from here on the North Coast. Research, and our experience at College of the Redwood's Distance Education department, has shown us that despite the fact that online learning takes more motivation and commitment on the part of the student, online learning is an increasingly popular option. Why is becoming a more popular option? Here are six reasons that we believe are driving student online enrollment:

1. Flexibility
Online students can work on their courses and listen to lectures between jobs, appointments and other classes. They can access their course materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Course work can be done around family schedules, and students can study on their phone, laptop or anywhere else they have an Internet connection.

2. Accessibility
For some students, such as those in wheelchairs or the blind, attending courses on campus can be challenging. Some students use adaptive technology, like screen readers, to assist them in class. In an online environment, the other students and the teacher may not even know that the online student has a disability. In turn, that can make online classes more attractive to students with special needs. In addition, students who are non-native English speakers also get the benefit of being able to review an online lecture multiple times or review complex concepts at their own pace.

3. Reduced cost
Attending courses online saves the students money by eliminating the expenses of gasoline, bus fares, and parking fees. Some instructors use online, free text books (such as College of the Redwood's Math Department) to further reduce the cost of attendance. If instructors are accepting papers online, students and schools alike save money in printing costs.

4. Engagement
Students in online classes tend to communicate more thoughtfully. Some students find it difficult to speak in class. Posting to an online discussion forum allows students to take their time and formulate their thoughts in ways that the face-to-face classroom environment may not allow. In our experiences with teaching online, we have found that we actually know our online students better than many of our face-to-face students because of the social dimension of online learning. Students often find that online classes provide more personalized attention.

5. Networking and technology skills
Online classes give students real world skills. Students who take online classes become more proficient and comfortable with using computers. Through assignments, discussion forums and group projects, students can learn to connect with one another online and with information in meaningful and useful ways. These 21st century skills are increasingly in demand by the workplace. Some students prefer to learn in the same medium they are using for managing information and communication in their life outside of school.

6. Online learning creates options
Students who take online classes know they have options. If a student needs to take a class that they need to graduate, they will be able to take it online if they have to. Students who take online classes are more likely to take classes in order to update their professional skills further into their careers. They will have the ability to take advantage of online training and “webinars” their future employers or universities may offer.

One of the problems with online learning is that students have spent 12 years or more learning how to be face-to-face students and never learn about the time management skills needed to be an online student. Fortunately, more students at College of the Redwoods are taking advantage of the free, two-week, fully online orientation to distance education called “DE 101.” If you are interested in learning more about online learning, or a CR student interested in DE 101, email Geoff Cain at geoff-cain@redwoods.edu.

Geoff Cain is the Director of Distance Learning at College of the Redwoods. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Redwood Technology Consortium. Want to know more about technology and education? See Geoff's blog at http://www.geoffcain.com.
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