The college campus ethos is changing, and the current pandemic has certainly brought more attention to updating traditional models in recent news. In reality, the status quo of dorm rooms, frat parties, dining halls, and the stereotypical college experience in general, have been evolving for some time.
As a point of fact, nontraditional students are the fastest–growing demographic for college attendance. Working adults, veterans, students with disabilities, and parents are all now students of higher education. These working professionals lead busy daily lives, making traditional college options nearly impossible. As such, accredited online colleges and universities have stepped in to fill their needs.
The Virtues of Going Virtual
As campuses closed around the world, more students are taking advantage of the virtual classroom technologies and support services that their schools offer. The distance education option at most schools is considered less popular when compared with shiny research facilities and state-of-the-art gyms. But some institutions have broken through the brick-and-mortar tradition and begun operating solely online with no physical campus.
Imagine a college free from housing costs, meal plans or parking permits. Tuition and fees would instead go to virtual support services and remote-learning tools. And while few colleges have piloted this model exclusively, it seems to be working.
Western Governors University, with its career-focused online program offerings and no actual campus, consistently reports high graduate employment rates and a low annual tuition. Moreover, as education technology rapidly improves, so do the experiences of online learners.
Extensive Student Support
Without traditional expenses weighing them down and education technologies constantly advancing, online education programs can be more student-centric. Many online programs employ a self-paced, adaptive learning process that students can access at any time. In this way, students juggling busy schedules can complete assignments when most convenient for them, skipping ahead or spending more time on lessons as needed.
Learning management systems, like Blackboard, Canvas, or Desire2Learn, provide the tools and materials students need for online classes. Prominent features include discussion boards, video conferencing software, and links to research articles, all in one user-friendly hub. Most even have a mobile application, so students can choose to access their online courses from anywhere.
Online learners need different support services and accommodations than traditional students, but this requires investment and adaptability. Fortunately for virtual colleges or universities, robust online support services are the only kind they need.
These institutions use various technologies to provide virtual tutoring, peer mentoring, career counseling, access to academic advisors, student enrollment support, mental health counseling, veteran services and faculty office hours. Support professionals employed by online colleges and universities are trained specifically to deliver the same level of assistance in an online environment.
Teaching with Technology
Online-specific orientations introduce students to time management tips, distance-learning tools and other resources. Field experience and internships can be coordinated within one’s own community with support from the school. Institutions use open-source materials and free software, such as Zoom, WebEx or Google Hangouts.
Digital libraries house research databases and a live-chat feature with a reference librarian. Technical assistance is often available 24/7. There are social media groups, virtual student organizations, and even study-abroad opportunities.
Future in Flux
The higher education landscape is in flux, and many wonder if the four-year residential model will recover post-pandemic. For years, online schools and degree programs have been stigmatized as lower-quality or less competitive. Now, the traditional college experience is taking a crash course in education technology and relying on best practices learned from the successes of distance learning.
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