Online Learning

Online learning descends from computer-based training, interactive multimedia (dating from laser discs and more recently, CDs with online learning) and integrated learning centers. With the internet boom since the mid 1990s, the concept of online learning has spread broadly. Online Learning can be thought of as a subset of the broader e-learning category because it refers specifically to content delivered via the Internet or Intranet.

For the younger children, there are free learning sites ranging from those that provide worksheets such as to those with interactive exercises. But, it is left to the parent to provide continuity, determine progress, and to assemble an overall program.

There are online subscription services for children that track the children and provide assessment, placement, continuity, and reports.

There are online universities ranging from legitimate distance learning systems to fly-by-night degree-mills.

Businesses use online learning to provide cost-effective training to their employees, partners, and customers.

As the number of students taking online classes continues to grow at a quick pace, the second wave of online college students is different: they are students who know the ingredients of a good online class, who are picky about which ones they sign up for and who will drop a class if the teacher turns out to be a dud. They are the new, savvy consumers of online education. In response to their higher expectations, providers of online education are incorporating increasingly sophisticated teaching approaches such as educational animation that address the challenges of presenting dynamic content to learners.

Nearly 3 million students are believed to be taking online classes at institutions of higher education in the United States this year, according to a report from the Sloan Consortium, an authoritative source of information about online higher education. The explosive rate of growth -- now about 25 percent a year -- has made hard numbers a moving target. But according to Sloan, virtually all public higher education institutions, as well as a vast majority of private, for-profit institutions, now offer online classes. (By contrast, only about half of private, nonprofit schools offer them.) Sloan tracks degree-granting institutions, but no one's keeping tabs on the thousands of corporate and vocational e-learning programs.

Fueling this growth is the convenience that online classes are much more convenient, particularly for people who work full time or have families. The costs to students are typically the same as for traditional classes -- and financial aid is equally available -- while the cost to the institution can be much less. And the Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their online classes as they are with traditional ones. In addition, the academic leaders say they believe the quality of online learning is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction.

Most professions have online accreditation as this point.

The K-12 online learning space has grown recently from a spate of virtual schools and virtual charter schools. Companies like Etrafficsolutions and Learning.com are spearheading the drive to bring the traditional "brick and mortar" schools into the 21st century by integrating an online technology curriculum into the classroom and measuring student progress in using and mastering the e-learning technology.

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