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Five Reasons Why Online Learning is the Future of Education


Did you hear? News just broke that our U.S. Education Department gave it’s blessing to online programs that award college credit—based not on how much time a student spends in a classroom but by how much they know and can do. It’s a new day.

State higher education officers, across the nation, are following suit, developing agreements that will cut the “red tape” that discourages colleges from offering online courses across state lines. Other states are now allowing students to get college credit for online courses when the class is full, even if the course is from a private vendor. Wow. It really is a new day. Time to return home and turn that laptop on. Now you get college credit for what you learn there.

You probably know adults have debated whether online courses are actually good for our kids. Concerns center around the questions:

  • Do the students really learn as much from a screen as a live teacher?
  • Is it just easier to inflate grades and not ensure learning is taking place?
  • Will this form of education lower their soft skills and communication skills? 

The fact is—we will need to answer these questions, because ready or not, the screen is quickly overcoming the “live” classroom as the preferred model. My son, Jonathan, agrees. He’s enrolled in both classroom and online courses at a local community college. He is chipping away at his general education before entering a liberal arts university. When I asked him to evaluate both venues he didn’t hesitate. He much prefers the online courses. In fact, he said, “My classroom teacher is actually more boring than the static computer screen. And, I can work on my own.”

Five Reasons Students Prefer Online Courses

Let me prompt some thought and discussion on why online learning is not going away, and how we must adapt to this form of education as time marches on. 

1. It revolves around a screen. Students love screens.

When I interview students taking online courses, they remind me that a screen is their natural habitat. They are digital natives. Screenagers. Interfacing with a screen is often more normal than interacting with someone face-to-face.

2. It enables students to work at their own pace.

According to one survey, the primary reason students prefer online learning is that it enables them to go slow or fast, based on whether they “get” the information. This is how they approach video games, Facebook, and other social media outlets. 

3. It empowers interaction, even for the shy students.

Several faculty members who proctor and facilitate online courses agreed recently that shy or introverted students are more apt to weigh in on a discussion when it’s a digital dialogue as opposed to a face-to-face one, where they get intimidated.

4. It allows a virtually unlimited amount of students to enroll.

One big challenge colleges face is helping students finish their degree. “We just can’t achieve that with our current model,” says Rachel Fishman, a Washington think tank leader. “We need flexible pathways where working people can find time to finish.” 

5. It’s less expensive than classroom space.

College For America is a pace-setter, based at Southern New Hampshire University. Loads of students (all ages) are mastering 120 competencies and advance based on assessments not grades. Why? Tuition is $2,500. How? No brick and mortar.

Does this online stuff lower academic rigor? Time will tell, but this technology is not going away.

What do you think? What are the benefits and the liabilities?


  1. CharleneFonseca on May 7, 2013 at 7:37 am

    What do I think? I work at Bryan College as a dual enrollment coordinator, and I think it’s the best thing yet for Christian parents and their students. I don’t feel it’s fair to “advertise” here, but I can say that our program answers all the questions, including tuition rates across the nation.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      That is great to hear, Charlene! Thanks for sharing.

    • Frank Edgar on June 25, 2019 at 5:20 am

      You are absolutely right! There are many factors influencing E-learning effectiveness, like media characteristics, learning context, learner characteristics and developing app like Udemy. Many experiments have also demonstrated that E-learning can be as effective as conventional classroom learning. It is mostly a socio-cognitive activity.

      • Hanna Norris on July 31, 2020 at 2:18 am

        Yes definitely. E-learning is the future of education and platforms like Udemy have proved this already. But for universities that are looking for more advanced versions, its best to take the help of developers and build custom solutions.

  2. RC on May 7, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Coming soon…my blog post on “5 Reasons Why Online Worship is the Future of the Church.”

    It’s a no-brainer, really.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Wow. We’ll look out for that, RC. Thanks for the post!

      • Concerned Dad on May 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        No comments for the Concerned Dad below?

    • David Ryan on April 30, 2020 at 9:38 am

      Thanks for that Post.

  3. Concerned Dad on May 7, 2013 at 11:03 am

    What do I think? I’ll address each point:
    1. It revolves around a screen. Students love screens. … Kids today have WAY too much screen time as it is. Screens do not provide love and attention. They also do not abuse the user. Kids “love” screens because they are an escape from their neglected reality. When parents slap an iPad in front of their kid to keep them quiet instead of spending time and parenting, the kid suffers in the long run. Call me old fashioned, but “Students loving screens” is not a benefit.
    2. It enables students to work at their own pace… Wow. so we are now going to rely on the student’s own pace to guide their learning? Pace of learning is individual, however persistence and motivation are not ascertained by a screen in any way shape or form. Children, especially those who are struggling, need a loving and kind teacher with patience and supportive words to keep them motivated. If frustration sets in and there is nobody to turn to for this support, the child will not thrive and his education will suffer. If the goal is to remove the “costly” teacher from the educational experience, I want nothing of it. We are on track to have nothing more than “room aides” in the classroom to stave off disturbances. No loving interaction… just cold screens.
    3. It empowers interaction, even for the shy students. Really? Not human interaction. Interaction is the Social Media age is very negative. Too much is said without any filter or veil of kindness or actual feeling. We are desensitizing our children by placing them in front of the virtual reality of a screen. Feelings are lost in text messaging and emails, now we will remove feeling from learning? Bad idea.
    4. It allows a virtually unlimited amount of students to enroll. From the stand point of dollars spent, sure this sounds like a good idea. But the true story will be told with how these students perform in the long run without a teacher / student bond. I suspect that there would be a higher rate of dropping out as well as lower overall performance. Although I can only speculate, without a human factor accountability, this is really a recipe for more failure. To look an an example, I would ask how many college freshmen tend to not do as well during their first semester of college? It is their first experience where they really need to hold themselves accountable in a setting where you might not have an instructor who knows your name. You are much more likely to feel that you will go unnoticed when you do not show up. You are now expecting children to have the same level of accountability. What will determine that a child is present (minded) when they log in and check into a session? Are we tracking eye movement for proper interaction? Or are we simply counting the fact that a presentation was downloaded / streamed as be sufficient?
    5. It’s less expensive than classroom space. … I understand that budgets play an important role in education, but when we start treating education like a corporation and try to cut costs everywhere, we are really communicating that the budget comes before the education. You get what you pay for. Everyone wants to save money. People complain about a millage that is assessed on their property because they don’t have kids. I’m sorry, but our society is not seeing the importance of a solid education for the future leaders of our country. It is up to us to provide them with the tools necessary to succeed. Plopping our kids in front of a screen, is NOT the best way to achieve that success.

    • Concerned Dad on May 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

      Sorry for the typos. I was replying as fast as I could type, and my mind was racing with emotions to express.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks for being apart of the conversation, Concerned Dad! You list valid liabilities of online education. We believe in a balance of face time and screen time as technology’s presence increases and methods in education evolve. I think the most important thing is that we make sure key messages are getting through to our kids, and sometimes we need to use what is cultural to say what is timeless. Thanks again for your comments.

      • OnlinecourseStudent on June 13, 2013 at 4:53 am

        As a student who has gone through 2 online courses in computer science this year (one at the grade 11 and one at the grade 12 level) I can say that most of the points Tim listed are true.

        In response to ConcernedDads concerns (tehe) over interacting with people through the internet, any interaction with another human being is human interaction. I’m a shy person by nature and unless someone says something I highly agree or disagree with I will not participate in almost any face-to-face discussion and I’m content to just not add to the discussion. Through online courses though I find I’m less afraid to talk to people because, as you pointed it out, it does take some emotion out of the conversations… The negative ones. It’s easier to not feel hurt by negative comments other may make towards you, hence why I participate more.

        The way our online courses work we do have a lot of interaction with a teacher. Through emails, phone calls and basically whatever we need to be able to succeed they are there for us. I still feel I have a student/teacher bond with my instructor regardless of face-to-face interaction. I don’t know if the courses above have any kind of instructor to help, this is just how it is run in my experiences. With ours we have no actual live streaming of some kind with our teacher, though as it’s computer science we do have a lot of video instruction available to us (some made by the teacher herself, others not), as well as notes and if we need help with anything at any time we can email our instructor and she generally gets back to you within an hour.

        As for your concerns regarding motivation I find my online course instructor is far better at motivating me to do things than the teachers I am face-to-face with every day, but I think that’s more a matter of a teacher to teacher basis. Some can do it, some can’t. All I know is online course teachers have pushed me to complete assignments as much as any i deal with face to face. So yes the rate of completion can sometimes be low but that is a problem with the students themselves and not the system, it is not always the right way to learn for some.

        Working at my own pace has been great as well, I can take time to make sure I actually understand things and with computer science that generally means you can actually play around with the knowledge you have obtained as soon as you have obtained it (Ie. Programming a game, programming your calculator to do quadratic equations in a simpler, neater fashion…etc).

        IN conclusion, It’s not for everyone. It does however work for those that need that class, the ones that want it and are capable of learning from it.

    • shadowguy14 on August 18, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      It really is people like you who are holding society back. Plus some of these online colleges have local classes so eat that!

    • Minister Ron Richardson on December 17, 2015 at 11:55 pm

      I am sorry but this is not the 60’s. The average class sizes are 30 plus kids. Some school districts around the country have more. Some towns and rural areas don’t attract the best and brightest. There are many leaving the profession all together because of poor salaries and benefits. Take your kids and multiply that by thirty in the same room. How long could you be loving and caring. Reality doesn’t line up all the time.

  4. charlene.fonseca on May 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Web manager (?), I don’t think that kids the age of the one posted will be the norm for those enrolling in college while in high school, do you?
    We need the picture of a 16-18 year old on this page, someone who is ready and able to work at his own pace, someone who already uses the I-PAD regularly and will now use it for meeting his educational goals.

  5. Paul Jolicoeur on May 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    I finished my degree using online education. I received the same material as in class students. The only difference was instead of trying to speak with the teacher after class if I had a question, I had to send an email or make a phone call. This allowed me to work full time, go to school full time and have a family. Very busy, but at least the opportunity was available. If I had to make class times spread out through out the week it would have never happened.

  6. Ralph M. Rickenbach on May 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I personally think that online education has many advantages to the class room.

    One, it can be so much cheaper, as the article already says. That will add to the democracy of higher education, allowing everybody to participate, not depending on location and wealth. Look at tuitions today.

    But then also, new models of school are possible. I can not only go at my own pace, I actually can select courses more freely. If today I have difficulties getting this math in my head, I stop and continue with another course before picking up the math course tomorrow.

    New tutoring models are possible – group learning, students helping students independent of location.

    Pressure can be taken from students by allowing them to take tests when they feel up to it, not when the professor has scheduled them, and taking the tests/assessments many time over until they pass. Of course, we have to have a solution that the person taking the test is who he says he is.

    Online courses and testing allow for other models hiring as well. Instead of hiring somebody for looks and degrees, we can easily test their abilities – using the same technologies. And learning does not stop ever, as we can take additional classes later in our life with freedom of schedule.

    Maybe students will organize in physical meetings and take classes together, thus still experiencing group activities. Maybe mentoring will become an answer for procrastination. Maybe titles and degrees will be of less import if we can proof abilities. Maybe creativity can evolve because of more freedom in learning.

    • charlene.fonseca on May 9, 2013 at 7:48 am

      Agree, agree. Is it ok to say that this article piqued my interest because that in itself is my passion–taking Bryan College courses online into the homes of high school students–of which comprises dual enrollment. I represent a college that is offering very, very affordable and flexible dual enrollment.

      This is a difficult step to take for brick and mortar schools, but as we’ve been learning/hearing, it’s the way that we must adapt if we’re going to help the best.

  7. Richie Lord on May 11, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I think it definantly has its advantages, but it also does create some other problems I see. Working with college kids for 8 years I have seen the increased rate of people taking online classes and even now taking a class that’s not online but just watching the lectures online if they don’t go see it live. This is helpful and benifitial to some, but it can also drive in bad habits in regards to time management and setting priorities. I see lots of people making the decision to go out with friends and “just watch online later” and when later comes they have to cram the school time in and rush it because they never made it a priority. I wonder how this mentality will translate into a workplace that may not be driven by screens as they have to deal with the face to face world. As well as using thier own filter to learn how to set priorities, rather than making going to class and learning be a priority

    • Steve on May 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      What about your other post which talked about the fact that more kids today are receiving higher grades than ever before and not earning them? I think one of the big disadvantages to on-line learning is there is no way to monitor who is actually doing the work, how they are arriving at their results, and who is actually face to face with the screen. Will this give students one more “arrogance” factor as mentioned in your other post discussion?

  8. Stephen Elliott on May 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Tim … I agree. On-line education is the current trajectory. However, on-line education does not lend itself well to the assessing of a person’s character and mannerisms. It is only in ‘face-to-face’ community living that we can truly experience what a person is really like. Kingswood University (as you likely know) is one of the few schools that actually makes ‘Christian character’ an actual condition of graduation. Every student is assessed, based upon the interactions the faculty and staff have with the students over their 4 year education. And increasingly we are using a multitude of assessment tools, to help students become more ‘self-aware’ of the mannerisms, character traits, habits, personality quirks which can hinder their effectiveness in real-life ministry. As a small example, I coach the hockey team and thus have a front row view of attitudes which can emerge in the ‘heat of the moment’. Not sure how on-line education could be crafted to provide that type of ‘community, face-to-face interaction & assessment’. Never-the-less, on-line education is a viable option for the educational component of ministry preparation.

    • charlene.fonseca on May 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      Is it important to make a differentiation between high school students who work alongside a parent/mentor while completing college courses and college students who are obtaining a degree online? There is no compromise of character if the online learning is used as a tool in the character-building process?

  9. charlene.fonseca on May 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Perhaps more of a response to Mr. Elliott, is it important to make a differentiation between high school students who work alongside a parent/mentor while completing college courses and college students who are obtaining a degree online? There is no comprise of character if the online learning is used as a tool in the character-building process. This is dual enrollment at its best.

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Five Reasons Why Online Learning is the Future of Education