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Online Learning: A Rapidly Expanding Education Choice

As an online professor for more than a decade, the online teaching experience is always rewarding; I work with engaging students from across the globe. Additionally, the online experience provides flexibility unmatched by my brick-and-mortar in-person classes in terms of course choice, cost, and access to instructors with real-world experience, all of which complements advanced learning.

When I was in college, there was no online option for any of my courses, and there were stringent logistical guidelines. For example, all courses started the same week and there were usually only two semesters for the vast majority of courses, fall and spring.

Requisite courses had to be taken first, which meant, depending on the major, the same students were usually in the same classes. If I had back-to-back classes, I found myself racing from one building to another, and in some cases, sprinting across campus to ensure I was not late.

If I needed to contact my professors, I usually had to wait until their weekly office hours and then stand in line outside their office before being seen. There was also the potential of being removed from a course if I missed class for a prescribed number of days. The days and times of courses were inflexible, so I remember having to choose between courses that had conflicting meeting times.

In addition, I paid hundreds of dollars to purchase textbooks that I had to carry around campus. Assignments had to be typed and submitted in person. Group projects often meant meeting classmates outside class, which for some students was a challenge. This was considered the “normal” college experience.

The New Normal: The Online Learning Environment

Fast-forward 25 years, and the “new normal” online learning environment is drastically different. Depending on the program, most textbooks are e-learning documents and available at no cost to students (review the “Course Materials” link in the Trefry Library section of the e-campus to see what additional materials may be needed for your program). The University also offers a book grant to some students.

Instead of waiting for a spring or fall first day of class, courses at online universities like American Public University and American Military University begin every month and range from eight to 16 weeks. There is no set time to meet each week, which means that online students can access their courses 24/7 at a time that is most convenient for them. In addition, online students can be mobile and continue taking courses even when they move to another town, state, or even country.

Professors are also only an email, text or phone call away, as opposed to waiting in line for their office hours. In addition, the flexibility of learning at your own pace and without leaving home is immeasurable. Assignments can be uploaded in some cases days before they are due.

Also, the virtual classroom can be filled with a diverse population of students from around the world who provide a real-world experience to the discussions and assignments, enriching the learning experience.

Online Enrollment Is Increasing

Such flexibilities have resulted in an increase in online enrollment. According to Best Colleges Online, “Enrollment in online college increased even as [traditional] college enrollment decreased across the nation. Today, millions of college students study online and more than one-quarter of all higher education students will take at least one online course.”

The National Center for Education Statistics, within the Department of Education, offers encouraging statistics about online learning:

  • 5.4 million students, or 25.8% of the college student population, have taken at least one online class.
  • 2,642,158 students – 12.5% of all college students – took online courses exclusively, and the other 13.3% of students combined online studies with traditional courses.
  • About 22% of graduate students studied online exclusively compared to just 11% of undergraduate students.

The Center for Online Education provides equally promising statistics:

  • 33% of college students are taking at least one course online.
  • One-third of college students expect to study online.
  • Online degrees remain most popular for students working toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • 29% of online students are working toward an associate degree.
  • 42% of online students are working toward a bachelor’s degree.
  • 28% of online students are working toward a master’s degree.
  • 3% of online students are working toward a doctoral degree.

How to Excel in the Online Environment

What do students need to know when they begin an online course? Etiquette, defined as how to interact with others, continues to evolve in the online classroom environment.

According to Universal Class, “At one time, etiquette served as an indicator of each person’s proper station in life. Today, etiquette helps smooth the path of our daily activities, whether it’s meeting others in our daily interactions, talking to someone on the phone, offering condolences properly or understanding how to talk to colleagues at a business conference.”

What are some online learning tips for etiquette in the online classroom? Here are my personal recommendations based on my more than 10 years of online teaching:

  • Read the syllabus to understand the expectations of your instructor and the requirements for online discussions and assignments.
  • Post on time and respond to students by the end of the week.
  • When responding to the instructor and classmates, refer to their names or preferred nicknames. Most instructors prefer using their title or “professor.”
  • Include questions when responding to the instructor and classmates to further the discussion.
  • Ask questions.
  • Use a salutation to start your discussion such as “Good afternoon classmates and Professor (insert name).”
  • Use separate paragraphs to clearly outline ideas.
  • If required, include references and properly cite others’ ideas and/or their written remarks verbatim in the body of your response.
  • Debate within discussion forums is to be anticipated, so if you offer an alternative viewpoint, do so in a respectful, non-confrontational way in accordance with the Student Handbook.
  • Adhere to the required word count for all written works.

What Prospective Students Need to Know about Online Learning

What do prospective students need to know about online learning? Prepare for the online experience now. Talk to an enrollment counselor to see what programs and courses are available for you. The University offers a warm and engaging environment that you can access 24 hours a day, as well as over 200 certificates and associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

The online learning world is here to stay. What are you waiting for? Enroll today.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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