Would you like to get a degree without setting foot in a classroom or hone your professional skills from the comfort of your desktop? Sounds too good to be true? You can now enroll in some of the tens of thousands of online classes available via the World Wide Web.
For decades, students have turned to distance learning to further their educational goals. From correspondence courses to teleclasses, distance learning has served the needs of people who can't physically attend classes. With the explosion of information technology and the Internet, you can convert your desktop into a virtual classroom. In most cases you need only your computer and Internet access.A New Kind of Education
Online learning, also known as Web-based training or WBT, makes it possible to deliver instructional content to a personal computer via the Web. You access a website, where you find most, if not all of the materials you need--a course outline and lessons, information about the instructor (if there is one), lecture notes, a list of activities, tests, and links to other online resources. In some cases, additional materials may be required, such as textbooks or DVDs. Some WBT classes are self-paced, others are led by an instructor. Most are what is known as asynchronous classes--you study at your convenience--although there may be a defined period of time in which you must complete the course.
WBT offers a number of advantages over classroom-based instruction:
- Take a class anywhere. Learn at home or at the office, because you only need a computer and Internet access.
- Take a class anytime. Access material 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- You decide when to attend. Take courses according to your own schedule and pace.
- Lower costs. Eliminate travel, parking, childcare and all the other costs associated with physically attending a class.
- Instant feedback. Tests can be graded and returned to you within seconds.
- Access to the latest materials. Instructors can easily update teaching materials as new information becomes available. Most textbooks are out-of-date before they are even printed.
- An interactive learning environment. Online technologies enable interaction with other students and instructors.
Online learning has disadvantages too, the main one being that students study in isolation. To overcome this problem, many WBT classes incorporate features that invite student participation and collaboration, including:
- E-mail for submitting homework and communicating with the instructor and other students.
- Message boards where students post notes relating to class content and group activities.
- Chat, audio conferencing and videoconferencing for real-time communication.
- Screen-sharing, which allows students to see what an instructor demonstrates on his or her computer screen.
- Class websites for posting of charts, graphics, and links to other resources.