Online learning: Past, present and future |

Online learning: Past, present and future

Daryl Yarrow is the Colorado Mountain College vice president who oversees distance learning. The number of students taking distance learning classes through the college increased 29 percent compared to the same time last fall.
Staff Photo |

New technologies have changed today’s classroom – at all levels – in ways unimaginable two decades ago. Students can reach for their iPad to access texts or reading material. They can connect with others in another city via video or web conferencing. And what’s more, they can create their own classroom at their home computer, completing courses or entire degrees online.

Maybe you’ve formed an opinion about online classes or degrees. Proponents say they add more options and flexibility. Critics fear students miss out on lively face-to-face debate. Over the years, online learning has changed by leaps and bounds from the days of its predecessor “telecourses” consisting of prerecorded, videotaped lectures and mail-in assignments.

Like most universities and colleges across the country, Colorado Mountain College offers many classes that can be taken online. These include a variety of general education as well as specialty courses. In the past 10 years, the number of online classes offered at CMC has doubled, as has student enrollment in online courses. We now offer six associate degrees and eight certificates completely online.

As you might expect, online learning classes do provide students with more options and flexibility as a course can be completed on the student’s schedule – day or night – allowing adaptation into a busy work or family schedule. Whereas schedules might only permit students to take two or three face-to-face classes in a semester, online learning allows them to possibly take four or five, thus moving them more quickly toward degree completion. Our department’s unofficial motto is: Online learning helps make graduation possible.

What might be the most surprising element of online learning is that it is highly engaging – and may in fact provide more opportunities for engagement than the face-to-face class. Consider the shy student who won’t speak up in class but will open up at the keyboard. Discussion boards provide a venue for teacher-to-student as well as student-to-student interaction. Teachers and students can also easily share timely and relevant information that supplements their discussions by posting links to news articles, streaming video, photos and more.

Online learning classes are equally or even more demanding than their face-to-face counterparts. Students need to have time management and independent study skills. With no set meeting times, students need to take the responsibility of engaging in their course on a regular basis.

Many instructors teaching online learning classes also teach on campus and bring those same qualities of teaching face-to-face to their online learning classrooms. Online learning opens up a greater diversity of course offerings: Within CMC’s dispersed service area, students benefit by having access to a course taught by an instructor at another campus.

Seeing how far online learning has come in the past decade, it will be interesting to see where the next 10 years in learning takes us.

Daryl Yarrow is the associate vice president for online learning at Colorado Mountain College and the interim campus dean of the Roaring Fork Campus, with locations in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Springs-Spring Valley.

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