By Craig T. Bogar, Ed.D.
Faculty Director and Associate Professor of Sports Management, School of Health Sciences, American Public University
As online learning increasingly gains prominence in higher education, some educators continue to wonder why online learning is so appealing to college students. Arizona State University, on its Prep Digital website, posits four reasons that are not likely to be refuted:
- Move at your own pace
- Personalized learning
- Pursue passions outside the classroom
Others suggest reasons that typically receive less attention. One is the ease with which instructors and students can engage in the online classroom. At many large brick-and-mortar institutions, students might never engage with their instructor or fellow students, especially in large lecture halls.
Online classes not only provide the increased opportunity to engage, but actually require engagement as a part of the curricula.
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The Online Environment Arguably Facilitates Classroom Engagement
Another factor in the online environment that arguably facilitates classroom engagement is that the interaction is somewhat anonymous, especially when students are not required to post their photos or bios in their courses. This anonymity could be important for students with low self-esteem or who lack strong verbal communication skills.
These factors typically present obstacles to on-ground classroom participation. But students who might be uncomfortable raising their hand in a traditional classroom may be more willing to post questions to their instructor or contribute to a discussion among classmates via the keyboard.
More choices for students to enroll in courses that fit their degree plans and schedules is another attribute of online education. At on-ground universities, it is common for some courses, especially upper-level courses, to be offered only once a year and they typically fill up quickly.
At online institutions such as American Public University, where a new eight-week term begins each month, the availability of courses is much greater as compared to institutions that have just the traditional fall and spring semesters. Increased course offerings also give students a better chance of taking a course taught by a favorite professor with whom they may have already begun a meaningful, mentoring relationship.
Discussion of Online Education Popularity Typically Focuses on Traditional Age Demographics
Much of the discussion regarding the popularity of online education typically focuses on the traditional age demographic of college students. While that demographic will always be important in higher education, a bigger impact, however, may come from the non-traditional student population.
In previous eras, the only way for a working adult to complete a college degree or pursue an advanced degree was to take night classes. This was usually done in conjunction with working a 9-5 job, missing dinner with family, and not being home to interact with the children.
Online education has clearly blown that model out of the water as working adults can now more feasibly achieve their academic goals while remaining in touch with their families on weeknights.
While technology is certainly appealing to the traditional college-age population, the fact that online education is “mobile” is equally attractive to online students of all ages.
In its annual study of online college students, Wiley Education and Aslanian Research found that “nearly three in five students age 45 and under, said they completed some or most of their course-related activities using mobile devices.”
Working from a land-based computer or even a laptop are not the only ways in which to participate in online learning because much can be accomplished simply from a smartphone. This is underscored by the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, 81% of adults own a smartphone.
The reasons why online education is preferred today will only increase as time goes on. The fact that most U.S. colleges and universities offer online education in some form supports that contention. The demand for online learning, especially as cost efficiencies and academic quality increase, will certainly be even more prominent in the future landscape of higher education.
About the Author
Dr. Craig Bogar earned his Doctor of Education degree in sports management from the United States Sports Academy in 2010. He is also a former dean of student services and adjunct faculty member at the Academy. Dr. Bogar also worked for several years as an adjunct faculty member and project coordinator in family medicine at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He also served as director of athletics at the University of Mobile and at Loyola University New Orleans, where he served as athletic director from 1991 to 1999. Dr. Bogar earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant University and his master’s in recreation from the University of Maryland College Park. In 2019, he was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Loyola University New Orleans.
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