Twenty years ago, when you wanted an education, you had to pick your school, apply, enroll when accepted, select your major, pay your fees, go to class when scheduled, listen to the teachers’ lecture, and then take your tests, over and over again until you completed the required curriculum. This was the routine, at least until the 21st Century came around. That's when the online learning revolution got started.
Last year, the online learning market was worth more than $150 billion. Some are forecasting this will soon grow to $300 billion. Increasing numbers of adult learners who are choosing online educations over formal brick-and-mortar colleges are the ones who are driving this accelerating growth rate.
What is virtual Front-End Online Education?
Front-End online education currently takes three major forms:
Bachelor and graduate degree course work offered by accredited colleges and universities. Two well-known examples are MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Harvard’s Online Learning. Other excellent examples are Penn State’s World Campus, the University of Arizona Online, and Maryville University Online.
Professional certification programs online that are targeted at adults who want to advance their knowledge and skills in a specific area, like management, nursing, or computer programing. Good examples here include edX’s Professional Certification Program, the University Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business Online Certificate Programs, and Harvard Extension’s School of Professional Graduate Certificates.
Online education platforms that host a large variety of courses, each of which is aimed at a specific issue or the development of a specific skillset. Good examples here include platforms like Udemy, Master Class, Optimize, and Coursera.
Today’s technology has made online education more manageable and more accessible than ever before. All a prospective student needs is a computer, an Internet connection, and some basic software skills. Increasing numbers of adults have these tools, and the technologies they need to become "well-educated” whenever they want. Far from being an inferior learning experience, these students are discovering that online education can be an educational experience that suits them, and that allows them to take their education to places that are under their control and direction.
Online Coursework: This Century’s New Front-End
Undoubtedly, with the ever widening spread of technology and the deepening global mandate for education, online education’s potential to become complementary – or in some cases alternatives – to traditional brick-and-mortar education cannot be overlooked. Here at TLO, we believe that online education has the potential to become the Front End component for anyone's learning effort. As long as they have the knowledge and skills necessary to both design and implement the kind of real-world learning efforts suggested by this 21st Century learning equation:
"Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development"
Instead of worrying about whether or not today's online educational opportunities can ever be as good as those traditional brick and mortar institutions provide, perhaps we should focus on how we can help those who are interested in 21st Century learning experiences learn how to develop the skills necessary to implement this new learning equation.