In this chapter, we will explore the possibility of learning wherever and whenever a learner wants to do so. This capability is due to modern learning technology, such as a completely online education and the ability to combine that with the traditional in-class approach in order to create a blended learning experience. There are several online learning modes, including asynchronous learning, synchronous learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
Asynchronous learning is a program in which the students may all be at a different point of learning when it comes to the course material. Some students may have a more advanced comprehension of the material at the beginning, but the goal is for everyone to come away with the same level of understanding by the end of the course.
In a synchronous learning program, students progress through the material at the same pace. Each student is presented with the same projects and quizzes at the same time as the other learners within the program.
MOOCs are usually university-based and allow students to participate in a course from anywhere in the world. The courses are often taken for pure interest and do not usually lead to receiving of credit or a degree.
Learning Anytime and Anywhere Completely Online
Learning anytime and anywhere is often done through distance learning. A distance learning program is one in which the learner is not located in the same physical space as the instructor. This type of a learning program is also referred to as online learning. A student in this type of a learning program may never have to set foot on a physical campus of the educational institution.
Learning from anywhere is now possible so long as the learner has a device with internet access. If any time is spent on a campus, then it is considered to be a blended learning program. Students should make sure that any requirements for their physical presence in a classroom or on a campus meet their expectations before enrolling in such a program.
In online education, students make connections from around the country and the world. They have access to instructors and professors with a wide variety of experiences and expertise. Graduates from online educational programs may even go on to become online teachers or educators themselves, especially if they take the time to understand how the technology behind the scenes works. It can also be possible for students to learn or complete their assignments at any time.
If the course or degree program uses an asynchronous learning mode for at-home study while classroom presentations are conducted in real time, this type of a schedule can be flexible enough to set regular class times and allow the student learners to set their own learning pace. Instructors can then set reasonable assignment deadlines that enable the student to keep their full-time or part-time job and to have time for responsibilities such as caring for their parents or children at home.
Online Learning Types
There are many different online learning types and each of them has its advantages to student learners. The three most common online learning types are synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, and MOOCs. These programs are all widely available at the college level. Developers are beginning to expand course offerings to include programs for high school study, English as a second language (ESL) studies and for post-graduate degrees.
In synchronous learning, students can log onto the school's website or learning program at a specified time. During this time, they are able to interact with their peers and professors via group chats, web seminars and video conferencing. These face-to-face interactions make synchronous education seem like a traditional in-class experience with the help of advanced technology. Students in a synchronous learning program may also use multimedia, social media and file sharing programs to work on projects, provide constructive feedback and engage in discussions about relevant topics.
In asynchronous learning, distance education students complete all of their classwork at their own pace. This type of a program allows students to have constant access to materials. They may be given a time frame during which they need to connect or take their quizzes and tests. Asynchronous educational programs are known to enhance a student's portfolio and finished products.
These programs also boost the frequency of collaboration between peers and professors of a class. This student-centered approach to education also helps to develop a strong community of peers. The community is developed through online interactions such as texts, message boards, and discussion forums.
In the asynchronous learning community, there are many technological resources supporting the infrastructure and soft structure. These include email, discussion boards, blogs and course management systems. A few popular course management systems used at the university level include Moodle, CampusCruiser, and Blackboard.
Students participating in asynchronous learning environments can express their thoughts and opinions without interruption. They also have more time to reflect on what they are learning, as there is nobody telling them to hurry up to the next session or lesson.
This type of learning environment has the potential to reach many more students than a traditional in-class course due to its increased flexibility. Students have the freedom to complete a degree in an asynchronous learning environment while at the same time meeting their personal and professional obligations.
People who go back to college after starting a family or people who want to change careers but cannot afford to stop working in order to attend an in-person, traditional educational program benefit from this freedom. Motivated learners such as these are often able to complete a distance education degree in less time than the program creator’s estimate.
Course-wide updates are easier for educators to enact, and new relevant information can be added to the course content at any time. Everything that takes place in an asynchronous learning environment can be electronically archived for future reference.
Thanks to the development and technology behind web-based learning programs, everything in an online educational program is accessible through mobile devices. Students can use their laptops, tablets and smartphones to access the class materials and connect with their peers. They can do this from anywhere, as long as there is an internet connection. In mobile learning, modifications to a lesson plan or class project can be disseminated quicker than in a traditional classroom. Students can also use their mobile devices to submit assignments and supplemental materials, such as taking a photo for an art class.
MOOCs are free, web-based massive open online courses. They can be managed and implemented on a learning management system by a university or college. The management system automates the administration, delivery, tracking, and management training of the program.
Developers are also able to design the course management system to auto-send emails and notifications such as when a question has been answered or when quiz results are available for review. Many MOOCs offer free digital honor code certificates or verified certificates that can be purchased as proof that the student participated in and completed the course.
This can be done for large numbers of students anywhere in the world. In MOOCs, education can be delivered on various topics. Not all MOOCs provide academic credits; some are simply for the enjoyment and learning the experience of the student. Some prominent providers of MOOCs include Udacity and Coursera, which was founded by a Stanford professor. MIT and Harvard began the already mentioned edX program, which they use to promote their MOOCs.
This non-profit learning site is now an MOOC provider for many other universities who have developed free MOOCs for anyone who wishes to participate. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, reading materials and problem sets, many of today's newest MOOCs provide interactive user forums for the support of community interactions. These forums foster peer-to-peer collaboration and can help students educate each other.
For many of today's college and university students, blended learning programs are the best of both worlds. These programs try to combine the advantages of traditional learning with those of online learning. In Dziuban, et al, 2004, educational researchers explain that an ideal blended learning program "combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom with the self-directed and active learning opportunities that the online environment offers." The Sloan Consortium explains that 30 to 70% of the instruction in a blended learning program is delivered online.
This online content includes video streaming lectures, laboratory exercises, web activities and face-to-face interactions through the use of computer, tablet or smartphone cameras. The in-class activities on the institution's campus may include content delivery, proctored exams and real-time discussions that include attendance taking.
These blended learning programs offer learners the chance to live a part of the traditional student life, but with the flexibility, time and financial efficiency of online education. The professors gain the same advantages, including minimal commutes and lower costs.