Teaching online is becoming increasingly common. There are many benefits to learning online. However, it needs to be remembered that online education is not a ‘silver bullet’ or panacea. It is just as easy to develop inflexible and inappropriate instruction online as it is with other methods. Nevertheless, there are good reasons that both students and teachers are making greater use of the Web for educational purposes.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is that of convenience. The online classroom is always open. It can be reached from anywhere with an internet connection. Greater access is useful for students living in rural areas, students with disabilities and those who cannot attend campus because of other commitments such as work or child-rearing. It can also reduce costs if there is less need to travel. Of course, providing material online can also result in reduced access where students have limited access to the internet.
Online learning is typically self-paced. This can suit students who are shy; those who are not native speakers or slower learners who need to take extra time to develop answers. The student can review material as many times as they want and references such as dictionaries can be consulted.
Online teaching tends to be more student-centered where the role of the teacher becomes that of a facilitator. It is often said that the teacher changes from being a ‘sage on the stage’ to a ‘guide on the side’. Students are able to access a huge range of resources on the internet. These resources are not necessarily just text-based. The types of resources available include text, audio, video, graphics and animations. However, as there are no gatekeepers on the web and anyone can publish just about anything, students need to be taught how to evaluate and discriminate among these resources.
Being able to critically evaluate the wealth of material available on the web is just one skill that online learners develop. Students also get experience with technologies and methods that are used in many careers. For example, online courses often make use of computer-conferencing which is widely used in many industries. Hopefully, the skills that students attain can also help them become life-long learners.
Technology has the ability to enhance learning and teaching. However, if used inappropriately it can also interfere with learning. It is important to choose online methods in education for pedagogical reasons rather than let it be dictated by the availability of the latest technologies.