The education sector has a long history of implementing various delivery methods to meet academic and student needs. The first distance (more like correspondence) education program was developed in the late 1800s by the University of Chicago.
Programmed learning can be traced back to the 1950s – when B.F. Skinner introduced instructional, sequenced programs that offered immediate feedback to learners. A decade later, Fred Keller developed an instructional program in which students first read an assignment independently but then met with a tutor who only permitted them to move on when they had demonstrated the material’s mastery. Additionally, Keller’s students were given opportunities to discuss relevant concepts in a social context, like a classroom.
These early education pioneers are, in retrospect, easily seen as the predecessors to modern, contemporary online education models. Skinner and Keller laid the groundwork that led a shift in education by focusing on the planning and implementing learning models designed specifically to improve student success. Contemporary virtual learning environments are often viewed as the electronic manifestations of these early education innovations.
Distance learning platforms and the educators administering their services now seek to technologically leverage the systematic principles of instructional design while strategically applying relevant human learning psychological doctrines. Ultimately, online education must effectively engage learners to reach targeted educational/learning outcomes if, conceptually, it is to be successful and, thus, worthwhile.
History has taught that distance education is a legitimate and valuable alternative educational pathway – especially for adult or physically challenged learners vying for higher education degrees, certificates, or other relevant credentials. And, for decades, virtual educational options have been growing at a steady pace (in popularity and accessibility) across the globe.
It is noted that while the lines between traditional and distance learning options have become quite blurred of late, recent global events have essentially erased the boundaries between these learning methods!
Online Learning & the Pandemic
Fast forward to January 2020, when COVID-19 first appeared. By the end of April 2020, more than 1 billion across the globe were displaced and not in a classroom.
The coronavirus pandemic required the world (and the education sector) to jump head-first (without a net) into virtual learning – certainly before the education community was ready to act. Fortunately, by the time COVID-19 was front-and-center, technological and educational innovations were available to create remote learning environments.
However, speculation continues to swirl regarding the overall, lasting impact of the Year of COVID and how the education community will look during the post-COVID-19 era. Many in the community recognize that this pandemic-forced shift to virtual and distance education is an ideal time to reimagine how education may be delivered effectively to everyone.
The coronavirus pandemic has unexpectedly required educators, support staff, students (of all ages), and parents to rapidly adapt to the provision of virtual learning. With little time, facing unthinkable consequences, educators have been able to create both online and socially-distanced classroom options (or any combination thereof) to open schools in an effort to maintain consistent, ongoing learning options.
Breaking Down Online Learning – Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning
Overall, there are two primary types of online learning methodologies – asynchronous and synchronous learning. Most virtual education programs or degrees will include both types of learning, each of which are explained below –
- Synchronous Learning – references a learning environment in which a group of students is engaged simultaneously – learning at the same time or with synchronicity. These students are located (or signed into) the same location and interact with each other in real-time. Synchronous learning offers the following benefits –Student participation and interaction.
- Knowledge exchange.
- Feedback in real-time.
- Instruction is routinized & scheduled.
- Asynchronous Learning – as logic dictates, asynchronous learning is the opposite of synchronous learning, a learning model in which participants work independently and do not interact with each other in real-time. Asynchronous learning offers the following benefits –Offers students flexibility in terms of scheduling.
- Is accessible 24/7.
- Automation may reduce repetition for students and faculty.
Prior to COVID-19, the fundamental objective of virtual learning was to open access to those who would otherwise be unable to attend a more traditional, classroom-based academic program. As its objectives are enhanced to support instruction continuity, it will be interesting to note which of the emergency remote teaching aspects remain in place (if any) when COVID-19 is no longer danger or health factor. Will things return to normal or has a new normal been created in response to COVID-19.
The reality is that the audience for online learning has been growing steadily for many years; however, it remains unknown as to what the education community will look like due to the significant shift in the expectations of educators, administrators, parents, and students.
And online learning has been shown to be more effective because E-learning offers students retention rates of 25 to 60%, which is a significant contrast to in-person retention rates of 8 to 10%