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Commentary: Online Education — Enriching Society, Creating Personal Opportunity

Dr. Yoram Neumann is the chief executive officer of Touro University Worldwide and Touro University Los Angeles.Dr. Yoram Neumann is the chief executive officer of Touro University Worldwide and Touro University Los Angeles.

Online learning is indeed the great equalizer enabling diverse and distant populations to enrich their knowledge through online degree programs. Distance learning is affordable, student-centered and convenient for working adults and for their employers.

The evolving world of higher education is becoming even more effective and accepted by tech-savvy students and their employers. These groups value the ability to allow learning-on-demand which opens new advancement opportunities and mobility to these diverse groups, increasing their success as learners and earners in the ever changing global world.

Ease of Education for Diverse Populations

Our world of growing globalization and facility with different languages and cultures ratifies all the rationale behind distance learning theory. Professors are as diverse as their student populations. Many professors, particularly a growing number with PhDs — in the over 90 percent range at top distance learning institutions — have experienced online learning courses themselves so they know exactly what works and what does not.

Years ago, professors struggled with the technology more, and in many cases, had less time to concentrate on refining teaching techniques and pedagogy focused on online learning to provide students with more customized and personal attention. The precursors to online learning were TV courses in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where two and three hundred students just watched a professor in a sterile room lecture while academic assistants handed out printed material.

Today, the best accredited online schools have increasingly interactive web-based courses with technologies that encourage real-time professor/student interaction.

Course pedagogy is also geared toward the online environment with an eye toward accommodating underserved or diverse student populations. In the past, the student demographic was younger and probably taking a break from the workforce to concentrate on school alone. That luxury is evaporating today, and as a matter of fact, it is widely recognized that online courses are actually more effective learning tools in many circumstances. Shachar and Neumann (2010) estimated and compared the differences between the academic performance of students enrolled in distance education courses relative to those enrolled in traditional settings throughout twenty years of research covering 125 different studies. In 70 percent of the cases, students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts in the traditionally instructed courses.

Student interaction with other current students or alumni has also blossomed as the technology encourages collegial mentorship among current and former online learners. Realistically, maybe former online learners/graduates are misnomers, as online students tend to get the bug and become lifelong learners with constant interaction and collaboration and a thirst for learning more and more as needed. The best online schools offer and encourage that lifelong learning culture and even work with strategic partner businesses to facilitate directed and ongoing collegial learning

Our fragile economy and the worldwide reality of adult learners juggling work along with higher education for career advancement makes online learning THE answer for career advancement.

Acceptance of Technology

Technology for online learning encourages the process of learning at your own speed and most top schools recognize that their working student populations need coursework and requirements that can be very flexible. When online was in its infancy, the professors, as well as the students, experimented with different techniques and had to deal with inconsistent technologies. We are beyond the point of experimentation and onto tried and proven technology learning capabilities with the top schools providing 24/7 technical assistance and the ability to be in touch with professors on a regular, if not daily, basis. This around-the-clock environment is applauded by employers who are more likely to hire or advance individuals with flexible work experience. Today, most employers consider many online degrees the equivalent of traditional degrees. Almost every top institution of higher learning offers some form of online education.

Acceptance by Employers

This online learning flexibility and coordination with employer’s needs and schedules make online and distance learning these days not only acceptable, but actually preferable by a growing number of employers. Parenthetically, an equally growing number of employers are coming from the ranks of the online learners, so selling them on the process is just preaching to the choir. The U.S. Department of Education also cites various online degrees as actually more effective learning models than other degrees.

The Future

The future for online learning as a career-advancement tool is bright now and will continue to brighten as the workforce becomes absolutely familiar with technology, gaming, entertainment and education in a ubiquitous online environment — from cradle to grave.

Employers will more intimately partner with top online institutions to collaboratively develop and institute the specific disciplines those employers need. The military and governments around the world, for instance, will use online technology even more to cost effectively and efficiently train their personnel. The government sector and the new G.I. Bill for education offer exceptional scholarship and assistance programs already. Every indication is that the services will continue to use their online training and assistance as training and recruitment tools, which are exceedingly attractive to private-sector employers.

There will be more selection for certificate and advanced degrees, more collaboration with future employers, advancing technologies to make learning easier and seamless with employers’ needs and even self regulation and government regulation that, if handled properly, will provide all learners and their businesses a way to strengthen production and benefit all market sectors. Indeed, all economies and individuals will benefit as online learning becomes increasingly sophisticated and desirable in our expanding global environment.

Dr. Yoram Neumann is the chief executive officer of Touro University Worldwide and Touro University Los Angeles, which includes a growing online learning division and bricks and mortar division (Touro College Los Angeles)

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