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Are online classes gaining legitimacy?

For professionals working in colleges, universities, or academia, the issue of distance or online learning has become hard to ignore. After all, online learning is rapidly changing the academic landscape and revolutionizing the way that many students earn the credits to complete their degrees. According to the 2011 Survey of Online Learning (Babson Survey Research Group, 2011), over six million students, or 31 percent, were taking at least once class online during the fall of 2010. Additionally, 65 percent of higher learning institutions say that distance learning is a large part of their long-term strategy. Online learning is also growing at a faster pace than traditional face-to-face education -- and it appears to be here to stay.

Yet some professionals in the field of education may be reluctant to accept the fact that online learning may be more than a trend, and they have various reasons for their objections. Some educators feel that online learning lacks legitimacy since students are not able to interact in a classroom setting with their peers and their professors. Other professors and academic faculty may just be reluctant to change. According to a recent study by The Sloan Consortium (2012) titled "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,"only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty fully accepts online learning as an equivalent to traditional classroom studies. The study also reports that those in academia also believe that the low retention rate for online learning may slow down wider acceptance of distance education.

While some college and universities remain hesitant to fully embrace online education, most schools appear to be offering online courses in order to meet demand. The 2011 Survey of Online Learning revealed that online enrollment is growing at a rate 10 times higher than enrollment in traditional classroom-based studies. Additionally, 65 percent of colleges and universities are now offering some online options. As institutions struggle to cope with decreased funding, schools are competing for the growing student base. Offering online courses can be a way for colleges and universities to reach out to nontraditional students and those who seek to continue their education in as flexible a way as possible. And although a small minority of educators still maintain that online course work is not equal to traditional course work, institutions of higher learning appear to be embracing what seems to be inevitable.

Online learning has come a long way since the inception of the Internet, and it's expected to only increase in future years. As college costs continue to rise, students are expected to seek lower-cost alternatives such as online classes or technical schools, and institutions will be competing to fill their needs. Though some educators may be reluctant to accept online learning, the statistics prove that it is only continuing to grow. Only time will tell if online learning evolves into the education of the future.

Sources:

"Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,"Survey Reports, Babson Survey Research Group, 2012,
"As online colleges gain acceptance, colleges must adapt," Editorials, The Boston Globe, January 27, 2013
Babson Survey Research Group, "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011," I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, November 2011,



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