Just a few years ago, online learning was considered a drastically inferior method of education. Colleges and universities that embraced online classes and offered distance learning degrees were rarely highly-ranked and reputable institutions.
Times have changed, however. With lower budgets, limited physical space and new insight into the effectiveness of online learning, a myriad of highly regarded public and private colleges and universities have begun transitioning their curriculum to a digital world.
In fact, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the most well thought-of state institutions on the East Coast, recently announced its plans to offer its prestigious MBA program completely online.
The business school's dean told Mashable that the university made the move because it did not see online learning as a lesser form of education, if delivered properly.
“What we try to explain is that [while] there are low-quality providers online, there are also low-quality classroom providers,” James Dean told the news source. “There’s nothing about the particular delivery mechanism that makes it intrinsically low quality, and that we had the opportunity to reinvent what was meant by online and to really shatter those perceptions.”
High level institutions like UNC and the University of Southern California have begun offering degrees online, in part, because of the technology that is available today. Streaming lectures, video chatting and social media tools have enabled universities to offer online programs that are just as collaborative as face-to-face learning. USC's master's of arts in teaching program provides students with interactive online discussion groups that are often described as "stacked like the intro to the Brady Bunch," according to Mashable.
With today's advanced online tools, colleges and universities are able to offer the same level of education as they do through traditional classroom learning. In fact, a recent U.S. Department of Education study found that online students perform "modestly better" than students who attend brick-and-mortar institutions.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (News - Alert) and a well-known philanthropist, is one of the many thought leaders who are pushing online education as a viable alternative to traditional, face-to-face learning. He believes that online learning successfully addresses a number of issues with the current educational system while, at the same time, creating and empowering self-motivated students.
For more on Gates' thoughts about virtual education, check out his interview at Technonomy 2010.
Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf