Gone are the days when only a rare privileged elite could afford the time and money it costs to go to college. Today, technology is ever more rapidly transforming the entire higher learning landscape, opening up higher education to students from many walks of life. This exciting trend is expected to continue and expand in years to come, and not just for formal college or university degrees. Students pursuing avocational learning, certifications, continuing education and other higher education goals are also finding online education to be just the resource their demanding schedules ordered. This article will give you an overview of why so many students are finding that online education meets their needs so much better than the traditional learning models can. How Technology Has Helped Traditional and Online Learning Models to Evolve There is no doubt that the use of technology in education has had a measurable impact in the field of education across the board – even in the traditional higher education model, where students attend classes on a physical campus to earn their degree. Technology in the Traditional Classroom The use of assistive technology in the classroom, such as interactive wall screens, touch screens and in-class laptops gives students the chance to become familiar with and comfortable with technology from a very early age. Also, with the help of education devices like laptops and tablets, typing is fast rendering pen-and-paper notes obsolete. E-books are replacing paper books (and saving countless trees while they’re at it!). Instructors and aides can interact with students individually and in groups to conduct activities for collaborative learning in between classes (often this is accomplished via online chats and e-groups). Finally, email has largely replaced the endless queues during professor and aide office hours. Technology in the Online Classroom In the online learning model, learning with technology has opened the door to many amazing new ways to learn, while also removing a large number of traditional barriers to higher education. Technology Can Reduce Costs One of the most significant changes is simply the cost. Because online classrooms require less overhead expense, tuition and fees can be reduced, which opens higher education up to students from many different economic backgrounds. As well, e-textbooks are reducing the cost of books and supplies for online learners. Some free ebook library models, such as the OpenStax College model, can even make textbooks available to students free of charge. Technology Can Make Higher Learning FREE In some cases, the use of technology can actually create the ability to offer higher education for FREE, such as with the models used by Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, edX and Udacity. This model is based on the MOOC system (Massive Open Online Courses) where content from Ivy League universities and world leaders are made available for free, in hopes that students may then decide to enroll for additional learning through the universities’ online or in-classroom campuses. Technology Offers Learning “On Demand” Another great benefit provided by technology is the ability for taking courses “on demand” – that is, by listening to pre-recorded streaming lectures as each student’s schedule permits. Here, exams are often scheduled for a specific date, but the process of attending “class” can happen literally anywhere on any device with WiFi access. Technology Removes Space Limitations While there are certainly still many sites that could be considered “wide open plains” around the world, many are not suitable or viable for building traditional campuses of higher learning. And in space-crowded countries like China and India in particular, technology has taken education into a realm where the only space needed is “in the cloud” – and can take place in any kind of weather. The Time-Saving Benefits of Online Courses For busy adult students, just finding the time to attend college or continuing education can be a real challenge. With the introduction of online courses, students who felt like getting additional training, certifications or degrees would be impossible are now finding it is quite possible. For example, these busy students can listen to on-demand coursework while waiting in line, on the lunch hour, while commuting to and from work and late at night after the kids are in bed. They can reach out for online tutoring at any time and often for free. They can check in with professors and classroom aides, form online study groups with fellow students, submit homework and more – all online, no commute required. Having everything needed to learn located online makes it so much easier for these busy students to integrate higher learning with work, parenting, chores and a relationship, because online learning eliminates many time-related barriers (driving to/from the campus, sitting in classes scheduled at set times, visiting a physical campus for enrollment and other activities, et al). How to Find the Right Online Course For Your Needs One of the neatest aspects of online learning is how many options are available. Here are some of the most popular models: Earn a traditional college degree. Students can opt for earning a traditional college degree online, and it is the same degree they could earn at a brick-and-mortar campus. Enroll in advanced training, certification or continuing education. Students can also enroll for advanced training or certifications online. They can also enroll for continuing education courses online Take general courses to explore new paths. Students can also use free online learning tools just to try out a new career direction before committing financially to a full degree The Next Steps: Choosing Your Online Learning Platform Researching online learning platforms should be based on your higher education goals. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Do you just want to gain some knowledge of a complementary field? Are you interested in networking with other professionals online? Do you want to earn a college degree? Do you need to earn continuing education credits to keep your professional license valid? Once you have identified your goal, you can perform an internet search to identify the best online platform to meet your needs and goals. 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