The value that online education offers to students is undergoing a perception change. And college presidents are ahead of the curve, with a recent Pew Poll reporting that a majority of college presidents feel that online university options offer the same value as traditional classroom courses.
This is evidence that the way society views online education is inexorably shifting. People have tended to view online education as a more convenient and flexible education option to traditional classes. And while those things are true, online education is starting to look a lot more promising for improving education outcomes than it currently gets credit for.
Online Education Increases Academic Performance
We now have solid data that goes way beyond the Pew Poll’s survey of university presidents’ opinions. While the Pew Poll definitively reflects that perceptions are gradually changing, it doesn’t offer serious evidence-based data that measures the efficacy of online education. It mostly reflects opinions and attitudes.
But if the Pew Poll is light on actual data about education outcomes, the exhausting study released by the U.S. Department of Education has plenty of data to digest. The most important finding in the entire study may go a long way to changing the way people think about online education.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, online classes aren’t just an acceptable alternative to traditional education; they’re actually better. “Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
This means that in addition to being a more flexible alternative to rigid class schedules in traditional universities, online education can be viewed as an academic outcome enhancer. That’s likely to change perceptions about online course offerings going forward in a significant way.
Making Online Learning a Broader Option
We find ourselves in a unique point in history. We have an education crisis in this country and we need workable, innovative solutions that make sense in the real world. Online learning seems to present at least a partial solution to finding education alternatives that allow for greater customization without sacrificing academic rigor.
All of the ingredients seem to be in place for a fairly innocuous and easy adoption of online learning alternatives for students who choose the option or for whom traditional face-to-face instruction doesn’t seem to be working well.
Integrating Online Education Benefits into the Current System
Computer access is at an all-time high in the United States and likely even more widespread in other smaller industrialized countries. High speed Internet has become ubiquitous. The confluence of these technologies presents a great opportunity for education innovation.
How we integrate online learning environments into our education system doesn’t seem be an especially important part of the equation either. The U.S. Department of Education reported in their findings that “most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.” This means that how integration occurs isn’t really important in the grand scheme of things.
The method by which these alternatives are introduced doesn’t particularly matter. What the findings show however, is that when online learning environments are included as an option for students, regardless of implementation methodology, education outcomes get better. And improving education outcomes will likely do more to change perceptions about online education than nearly any other factor.
Jesse L. is a recent college graduate looking to make his mark on the world. Currently he is a blogger and a contributor at the Professional Intern. You can follow the Professional Intern on Twitter @TheProIntern. Be sure to check out his most recent article “How Steve Jobs Impacted Education.”