In 2019, the brick and mortar school is still a staple of both public and higher education. However, the advancement of online classrooms has ushered in a new era of learning, with students arriving to their classes with smartphones in hand, social media accounts constantly refreshing, and online search engines revolutionizing how information is gathered. For the first time since American schools shifted away from one room school houses, WHERE we learn is changing.

The online learning (e-learning) market was worth over 250 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. With over 6.7 million students enrolled in higher education virtual courses and new laws expanding e-learning flexibility, it is easy to see that education is shifting to the digital age.

E-learning takes on two distinct forms in the education field. The most well-known form is that of online universities and high schools, where students take classes virtually for credit. Harvard’s online learning center is a perfect example of this form. The second is the use of online learning for professional and certification training. Nursing, foreign language, and certification exams can all be taken on a computer. 47 percent of the workforce has or will use an online certification in their current position.

Problems with Learning Online

Since its inception in the 1990s, online education has been constantly criticized for not meeting quality standards that are achieved in the classroom. Critics say that online coursework deprives students of quality content. In a study by the National Education Policy Center, students who took coursework online performed worse than their brick and mortar peers. Additionally, retention rates show a pattern of high turnover, raising the question if taxpayer money should fund these digital programs that don’t allow students to succeed.

Attending class in the comfort of your own home has affected turnover due to the high level of discipline and self-motivation needed to complete online coursework. Brick and mortar classrooms are better suited to foster deeper conversation and questioning. While online learners aren’t necessarily teaching themselves the material, it does require greater attention toward staying engaged.

The Trend Continues

Regardless of criticism, online education has made great strides with many higher education and public school systems installing their own platforms. Professors, teachers, and support staff are all being devoted to building out a virtual teaching team. In some states, such as Florida, taking an e-learning class is mandatory to graduate. All of this growth is under the umbrella term “blended learning” to signify the combination of classroom/computer teaching.

School systems strapped for cash are realizing the benefits of shifting online due to the number of limitations and extra costs that come with brick and mortar learning. Instead of cutting arts programs, schools are cutting class time. Students are realizing the flexibility and cost savings as well. The ability to attend class at any time and anywhere has become extremely attractive to individuals working full time or those with children. Often when online students graduate, it is the first time they step foot on campus.  

While the Department of Education has not taken an official stance on e-learning, they have begun to promote “technology in teaching.” This simple statement leaves a lot to be said about the future of e-learning, but with the rapid growth rates and the majority of employers unconcerned about online diplomas, it seems it is here to stay.

Justin Deffenbacher

Market Research Analyst

A combined love of writing and data analysis lead Justin into content marketing, where he is able to both produce and analyze the impact of content. A course of study in journalism and economics was the perfect combination to help him understand how content, both visual and written, can impact a project. Outside of the office, Justin is an avid marathoner and - as a Minnesotan - a Vikings fan.

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