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From Skeptic to Fan: My Journey to Advocating for Online Learning

From Skeptic to Fan: My Journey to Advocating for Online Learning

I feel horrible admitting this, but as an undergraduate student I looked down on online courses; I thought they were an impersonal, lazy way to teach. I actually thought, “Why would I pay a legitimate amount of money for a fake classroom experience?” It wasn’t until my MA program at Iowa State University that I began questioning my (misinformed) hatred for online coursework.

I signed up for a course taught by Professor David R. Russell in which we had to design a full online syllabus. (I eventually went on to use this exact syllabus in an online class I later taught.) During one of our classes, Professor Russell held a video chat with Scott Warnock of Drexel University, who wrote Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. The examples Scott offered explaining how Drexel approached online learning intrigued me, and the more free online tools I discovered as I planned my own online course for class blew me away.

While I had always previously looked at online learning as a waste of time, I gradually began seeing the opportunities that it provided. And a few years later after teaching multiple online courses of my own, I’m now an advocate for the use of online learning and find myself defending online coursework to anyone I hear mock it.

But there is still a stigma associated with online courses. After hearing countless arguments about online education, I thought I’d list what I consider to be the most prevalent myths to provide answers as to why I’ve changed my tune from online learning skeptic to advocate for the use of online tools in education.  

Myth: Online Teaching Is the Lazy Professor’s Option

Many critics of online learning believe that the ability to pull together a few relevant video clips and call it a day makes online professors a threat to the high standard of education. And they do have a point: faculty members have to be willing to put significant effort into an Internet-based class to make it worthwhile for the students. But if they take the time to research and invest in their online classroom, online educators can offer a unique educational experience that is not possible in a face-to-face classroom.

Myth: Online Learning Is a Waste of Resources

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 25 percent of undergraduate students in 2012 were enrolled in at least one distance education course, including online classes. This number only continues to grow as new tools become available for online education. The widespread popularity of Wi-Fi service and technological advances have pushed online education into a more respected educational arena.

If education were just about having the materials in one place, students could simply go to a library and learn all they need to. The institution of education is really about organizing the best materials and acting as a guide for the student. I look at my profession as the chance to influence and inspire my students with passion to make them to want to know more. Online courses let me utilize a vast array of resources and videos without the time restrictions that a classroom puts on an instructor.

Myth: Online Courses Discourage Communication

A classroom restricts the discussion to a set time period. Online courses, on the other hand, allow professors to hold a discussion with no strict time limit. Plus, I’ve encountered many students that feel too shy to speak up and contribute to classroom debates. Yet, when given the chance to speak openly online, these students make valid and thoughtful points that further the discussion.

Online classes also give a depth to the discussion that would otherwise not be available. I can get into a discussion in an online course with someone who lives on the other side of the country—and I’ve even taught courses online to students studying abroad. Starting a dialogue with students from all over can challenge students’ opinions and provide a more interesting and fulfilling educational experience.

Myth: Only Unmotivated Students Take Online Classes

Online classes have become mistakenly synonymous with students taking the easier way out. The truth is that these students have to be even more disciplined to get coursework done on their own time. Students that sign up for online classes often choose to learn this way because of personal reasons that make going to a physical campus location restrictive, if not impossible.

With the cost of housing and transportation, students from many areas can’t afford a traditional university education. Courses taught online let students work full-time and then fit in online courses during free time. And while a rural student may not have reliable transportation to the closest university, he or she can either get online at home or a nearby public library for Internet access.

 

If you have discovered advantages of online learning that changed your mind, you’re not the only one. Online learning is becoming more popular, and by resisting my distaste for online learning, my experience has taught me to become a more open-minded, knowledgeable instructor.

The more we talk about and embrace online learning, the less stigma it faces. I would love to hear about the benefits you’ve experienced regarding online learning—or how you may have also changed your view about online learning. 

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