As the busyness bubble continues to expand, finding ways to achieve the dream of a college education often requires creative uses of time, energy, and resources. No longer can colleges and universities expect future students to pursue the one-size-fits-all path to an education. More innovative delivery systems, especially online learning programs designed around one’s life and work, are now providing considerable access to degree completion.
According to the IPEDS Data Center as reported in Inside Higher Education, 5.5 million students took at least one online course in fall 2012, and of those “2.6 million were enrolled fully online programs,” a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the higher education community.
National University, a recognized leader among online universities, for example, is quickly “becoming the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California and 12th largest in the United States.” Part of its growth stems from its commitment to providing broad-based offerings at convenient locations using creative delivery systems, including a One-Course-Per-Month approach. As per the school itself, using “a unique one-course-per-month format” gives students “unprecedented focus and flexibility.”
Joshua Kim, director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, takes it a step further, noting that the “best thing about working on online and low-residency programs is the students.” In his words, “online learning creates opportunity. The online and low-residency programs that I worked on allowed students to work towards their degree while continuing to work. Or while living at home in the summer. They were able to move through courses without having to move. Online learning extends educational opportunities because online learning transcends challenges of distance, schedules and time.”
Whether a student’s goal is to finish a degree, begin from scratch or expand an area of professional expertise, higher education now finds itself continually re-imagining how to deliver an educational experience that meets and exceeds the expectations of students of all ages and backgrounds.
“Anyone who has ever worked in an online program understands how deeply the research on learning has come to define the methods for online course design,” Kim continued. “Online courses contain frequent opportunities to improve learning through low-stakes testing and rapid feedback. Students in online courses are encouraged to reflect on the material in journals and discussion boards. Active and collaborative learning is always the goal.”
Pursuing an online program also has advantages financially for both students and the college or university. According to the Randy Best, chairman and CEO of Academic Partnerships, “the growing wave of digital students creates a meaningful financial opportunity for institutions, especially when online programs are priced at fair e-tuition rates that drive scale. Online learning allows institutions to expand into new markets, extend their brand and prestige beyond regional borders, while at the same time allowing them to tap into legions of new students, building their global alumni base and seeding future fund-raising efforts.”