Learning on the net

Ten years ago, online learning was unheard of. While it held the promise of attracting individuals constrained by time and location issues, the immediate concern was whether or not online learning could be just as good as, if not better than, the traditional and familiar classroom learning.

Concordia’s first step into the new educational frontier was a relatively quiet one. In 2001, through a company called eConcordia, Concordia offered its first course on the Internet. One hundred students of an engineering graduate program eventually took part in a pilot project.

Today eConcordia, a company owned by the Concordia University Foundation, offers 11 online courses open to all.

Over 555,000 Canadians were enrolled in online courses in 2003.Think Big, a Canadian consultant company that surveys educational trends, reported that figure is expected to double by 2008. More than 1.9 million Americans were taking online courses in 2002, according to information from the Sloan Consortium, which tracks enrollment in online courses. The number of students taking at least one course is projected to reach 22.5 per cent by 2006.

An online course differs greatly from customary in-class courses because it dispenses with the lecture and the classroom setting. As an online student you may never see or meet the teacher. You won’t have classmates. You won’t have a campus full of students. You can work from anywhere at anytime, provided you have Internet access.

To some, it may sound too good to be true. While online courses are popular worldwide, they should come with a warning: “Discipline is required”.

Kaoru Matsui, Director of Business Development at eConcordia, cautions that online learning does take preparation and discipline, and students should take one of the many self-assessment tests available online to see if they have what it takes to follow the course.

“Because of the nature of the flexibility of the online learning environment to a certain extent, individuals must accept the responsibility of setting goals and pacing themselves appropriately. Since individuals are given more autonomy, it is important not to procrastinate.”

Third year student Debra Linnd admits it was her lack of discipline that did her in.

“I decided to take an online course because I could manipulate my class schedule to fit my work schedule,” she said. “I thought it was easy, but I felt like I was studying in a foreign country.”

Linnd dropped the course, saying she could not get used to the new way of learning.

“It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I’m used to sitting in a class and having that face-to-face interaction. I enjoy the lecture itself and the spontaneity of the questions asked by students and the immediate response from the professor.”

Those looking for an easy way out of doing some hard work may not find the solution in online learning.

“The myth of online courses being a breeze is also proving incorrect,” said Matsui.


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