Online learning has become the norm for the year 2020, a trend that is continuing in 2021. Even without a global health crisis, this type of education has been steadily rising in popularity in the last decade. The worldwide e-learning market is expected to reach $243 billion by 2022. The United States has witnessed a steady decline in traditional college enrollment; yet a steady rise in the number of online college students for 14 consecutive years. There is no better time to put together the ultimate guide to online learning in 2021. 

Online education has forever been altered with the COVID19 pandemic. It has become not an option, but a necessity, and thousands of institutions worldwide scrambled to enable their students to learn from home. Even though the situation is improving, in February 2021, there are still over 220 million students who can’t come back to the traditional classroom yet. 

Distance learning is the way forward, and in this blog post, we will explain everything you need to know about it. We will define the principles of online learning, what you can study this way, what type of resources you will be using, and what are the undeniable benefits of online learning compared to traditional education. 

Online Learning: Definition

Different online programs and organizations offer different types of lectures. Typically, everything regarding a virtual classroom is done via a computer. An exception is blended learning that utilizes both online educational materials and traditional classroom methods. 

There are three types of lectures you can expect to find in remote learning: 

  • Pre-recorded lectures that allow students to watch them at their own pace (asynchronous learning)
  • Live lectures that students need to show up for at specific times (synchronous learning)
  • A combination of the two

In theory, there is no limit to what you can learn on the internet. You can find plenty of free online courses to help you advance your knowledge and skills in language arts, math, social studies, but also computer science, digital marketing, leadership skills, and so much more. Colleges and universities also offer official online degree programs you can take and obtain a higher degree. 

As mentioned above, some programs are entirely asynchronous, meaning the students can determine how slow or how fast they work independently of an instructor. But other programs can be synchronous, with the students having specific online lecture times and assignment deadlines. Nowadays, digital learning takes advantage of both types of lectures.

Learning Resources

Students are used to textbooks, notebooks, and possibly very little digital learning material in traditional education. It is almost the complete opposite in online class. Here are some resource examples an online student can run into during their course: 

  • Quizzes
  • Journals
  • Discussion forums
  • Interviews
  • Presentation slides
  • Recorded audio and video lectures
  • Live Q&A with the instructors and more

Even though this practice is slowly being phased out, some institutions might still require you to order printed textbooks for their online program. You will have access to all of the options listed, depending on the type of curriculum you need to cover and the organization providing it. Some online students might have all of these resources at their disposal, while others might only have a few. 

The discussion forums are designed not only for the students to communicate with their teachers but also with each other. You might be far away from the campus in distance learning, but the social aspect remains mostly the same. Thanks to social media, phones, emails, chatrooms, and similar, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to meet your fellow students and get to know them as though you’re taking traditional classes

If you’ve entered a degree program, you will likely have access to an entire digital library of the institution, as well as a learning management system (LMS) that will provide you with a well-rounded learning experience. 

Knowledge Assessment

Some online courses might not require you to pass any exams or tests to get your certification (though those are rare). However, most will ask their online learners to go through some knowledge evaluation before they can obtain their degree, certificate, or similar. 

Obviously, in remote learning, you cannot be expected to walk into an auditorium and take a pen and paper final exam. Instead, here are some common types of knowledge assessments used in virtual learning: 

  • Journal Activity

A relatively easy way for an online teacher to follow their students’ progress through the course material is through journal activity. Students might be required to write journal entries once a week or once every two weeks where they recount what they’ve learned and how they intend to use this newly acquired knowledge in their future. Journal activity is also useful for the students themselves, who can track their growth throughout the program. 

  • Individual Assessment

Individual assignments are common in traditional schooling as well. An educator provides a topic, a word count, and a deadline, and an online learner has to write a compelling essay on the subject, backed up by research and peer-reviewed data. Students need to develop a structured argument in their essays that clearly explains their point of view and understanding of the course content. 

  • Academic Discussion

Similar to writing an essay, an academic discussion also requires a fair bit of research. An online teacher provides a topic, and students must form arguments for or against the topic and debate one another in class. The students develop their discussion and critical thinking skills, and the instructor gets a clear understanding of who did the most research and grasped the vital facts from the course. 

  • Exam

Finally, virtual classes can also have exams. These are usually of the open-book kind because teachers don’t have the means to oversee them. However, some online course platforms could be equipped with software tools that help teachers prevent cheating and monitor the exam process. They also have sophisticated plagiarism checkers, making it incredibly difficult for students to copy assignments from other students or elsewhere on the internet. 

Online Learning Platforms

A valid question to ask yourself is: where will you find all these lectures and resources? Where can you access all of the required material you need to pass the knowledge assessments? Where are the discussion boards and chat rooms to meet other students?

To answer the e-learning business demands, software developers have come up with the idea of an online learning platform – a dedicated portal or web space where all the educational content and resources reside. This content is categorized, divided by subjects, topics, course instructors or teachers, and more.  

An e-learning platform can be free to access, with unlimited courses you can take, or it can be restricted by some type of membership. If you’re entering a college distance learning program, you will receive a student ID and password that will allow you to make use of everything the learning platform of that institution offers. 

Here are the three main types of online learning platforms

  • Learning Destination Sites: You have probably run into an LDS at least once in your internet browsing history – a site where multiple different course creators offer learning material on a wide range of topics. These creators don’t have to be employed by a single institution. InsteadRather, they are experts or professionals in various fields looking to share their knowledge with others. On an LDS, you can filter through the courses based on their topic or course creator, and you can sign up for one that sounds the most appealing to you. Courses on an LDS can be free, but if they’re not, they are typically not too expensive.
  • Learning Management Systems: We have already mentioned an LMS when talking about online resources. This type of system represents a software solution that is used internally within a specific organization or institution. Each college or university might have a different LMS depending on their needs, the type of their online curriculum, the number of online learners, etc. 

Course creators on an LMS are professors, teachers, or instructors tied to the organization you’re studying with. An LMS can also be a site you can access, but it might also be an application you need to download and install on your computer.

  • Learning Management Ecosystems: Going one step above a traditional LMS, an LME includes several software solutions: course authoring software, assessment tools, learning content management features, adaptive learning engines, and more. Organizations with extensive online learning programs use LMEs to provide the best possible experience for their students.

How to Use an E-learning Platform

Whether it is free or not, you will need a username or email and password to sign up for a learning platform. Having an account makes it easy for you to view your online courses all in one place and track your progress through each one. If you’re in a higher education online program, you will be provided an ID and password you can use to log into your student account. 

Before any classes start, you might want to take some time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings of the platform you will be using. Each one can have a slightly different interface, with various options and opportunities. If your entire course is available to you, you can choose when you will watch or listen to the lectures and complete the coursework. If it’s not, the live lessons may be held on the platform or off, on a different application such as Zoom or Skype. 

Completing your assignments also looks different depending on how the platform is designed. Check with your instructor before you do any work to not accidentally send in an assignment the wrong way. Some teachers will want you to email them, and some platforms might allow you to upload your files directly onto them – it varies from one course to another. 

It won’t hurt to talk to your teachers if you are confused. They will be able to clear anything up regarding how that particular LMS functions.

Benefits of Online Learning

Aside from the apparent advantage of accommodating social distancing during the COVID19 pandemic, virtual learning has many other benefits. Traditional classes offer a specific experience that not every student loves or can go through. Some people don’t have the time or the budget to attend a traditional school, and thus they resort to online classes to obtain their degrees.

But there are advantages to online learning that you may not have considered before. 

  • Self-Paced Learning

If your program doesn’t include any deadlines (or they are few and far between), then you have the excellent opportunity to study at your own pace. You don’t have to quit your job or sacrifice your family time – self-paced learning allows you to organize your learning schedule around these responsibilities in your life so that you don’t miss out on anything.

Your time management skills will be significantly improved. You won’t feel like you’re drowning in tasks you can’t accomplish anymore – you will be able to train yourself to set aside time for studying and time for work and for rest and stick to it all without a problem.

  • Lower Costs

One of the primary reasons young people are giving up the idea of a higher degree is high tuition costs. And when you opt for online classes, you will still have to pay a tuition fee, but it may be lower than if you studied traditionally. You might also have to pay fees for access to digital resources or a library, as well as an application fee.

The costs you won’t have to worry about are those related to housing and transportation. Distance learning allows you to do everything from the comfort of your home, meaning you don’t have to look for cheap living spaces, roommates to share them with, or similar. 

  • Better Critical Thinking

Online learning requires a different type of thinking than traditional education. Virtual learners are required to manage their time, organize their coursework in a way that makes them the most efficient, maintain their motivation, and hold themselves accountable for accomplishing their tasks.

These responsibilities lead to the sharpening of critical thinking skills. Online students need to critically assess their duties, whether they’re taking on too much or too little, and how they will proceed. Adapting to new circumstances and being flexible are key characteristics of an excellent online learner. 

  • Improved Technical Skills

The very nature of online learning is that everything is on the computer. You need to have a solid grasp of all the common software applications and tools used for communication and studying – e-learning platforms, tools for collaboration, Slack, Skype, cloud storage apps such as Dropbox, and more. 

As a result, those who have gone through an online course have better technical skills. They’ve learned to troubleshoot common software issues and quickly set up their virtual workstation to make the most of their learning experience. Technical skills such as these will look great on your resume someday. 

  • Gaining Different Perspectives

Aside from the course material, you can also expect your fellow students to leave an impact on you. Because distance learning allows anyone from anywhere in the world to join, you could meet students from different continents, countries, and cultures.

Broadening your horizons will improve your creativity, shift your perspective to a more global one, and help you better understand your place in the world. Having a different perspective will prove invaluable in your work life. You will stand out with your innovative ideas and ability to empathize with those who did not have the same life experiences as you.

Conclusion

The market of online learning has experienced a boom because of the ongoing global health crisis. However, due to the undeniable benefits this type of studying provides, we’re expecting it to develop and evolve even further. More and more students will opt for this type of learning compared to traditional classes. 

Technically, there are few limitations to what a person can learn on the internet. As long as it doesn’t require any practical exercises, there is nothing you can’t get a degree in online. You can even choose to improve your hobby skills, such as knitting, pottery, painting, and similar. 

Online students have an abundance of digital material to choose from. Their instructors might evaluate their progress through individual assessments, academic discussions, journal entries, or exams. These exams can be organized on online learning platforms, which are neat web spaces for students to access everything they need in one place. 

The advantages of online learning are countless. Some of the most important are lower costs of studying, learning at your own pace, improved technical and critical thinking skills, and getting a global perspective that will mean a lot when you enter the workforce. If you’re curious about online learning in the IT industry, feel free to ask us any questions you may have. MyComputerCareer will help you gain the necessary knowledge and certifications so that you can become an IT expert and enjoy all the benefits of that promising career path!