The power of online learning

The view from Columbia College's St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., campuses is a microcosm of postsecondary education today.

online learning
Online postsecondary education was introduced in the late 1990s, becoming a firmly entrenched part of higher education earlier this millennium. The Columbia College Online Campus was created in 2000 to meet this demand, and has become both wildly successful and a true national leader in online course development. This was reflected in the phenomenal growth of online enrollment, a year-over-year percentage increase of almost 60 percent in its early years.

However, "online is not for everyone or for everyone all the time,” said Debra Shrout, director of the St. Louis campus. “Although students like the flexibility of online learning it does require a great deal of self-discipline. While we have experienced a 44 percent increase in online enrollment, we don’t want to forget about in-seat or traditional learning as both styles offer their own values,” Shrout added.

The campus' 2008-09 enrollment reflects Shrout's viewpoint; the St. Louis campus experienced almost a doubling in in-seat enrollment. Is it the comfier seats and soda machines out in the hallway?

In-seat, online or both? Hybrid classes

It could also be the introduction of hybrid courses: half in-seat and half online.
The hybrid course was created on the main campus two years ago and this style of learning has proven to be a popular choice by students due to the blend of online flexibility with in-seat personalization.

There is even a hybrid course offering online lab work. A hands-on online science class was offered last fall. In addition to traditional coursework, students purchased an online lab kit that contained a compact field microscope, basic glassware, test tubes and beakers, dissection tools and even a sheep's heart.

Dr. Peggy Wright, assistant professor of biology at Columbia College, who helped set up the innovative course, says she wanted to make the online science class experience as real as possible, the equivalent to what an on-campus student would experience in-seat. "Using a microscope, for example, is pivotal to science, and I didn’t want it all simulated on a computer, stated Wright. “The idea is that a student will get to hold a microscope, hold a slide, and learn how it works. You can probably find pictures of a sheep's heart online, but I wanted students to dissect it, hold it, not look at a computer simulation."

Online is here to stay

Education will increasingly be provided via the Internet, especially as instructional online technology becomes more innovative. A 2008 Sloan Survey of Online Learning of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide found approximately 4 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2007. And online education continues to grow. In fact, Reuters reported in 2009 that online education grew 13 percent year-over-year, and that nearly 25 percent of students had taken some online college courses. In 2002, Reuters said only 10 percent did so.

Columbia College now gives students any option they need to make education a central part of their life – in-seat, online or both.