The ideas of teaching and learning have changed drastically within the last few years. Being in a traditional classroom is no longer the only accepted learning experience. With the rise of new education technology and pedagogy, there are more options than ever for how you can choose to pursue a degree.

We are entering a new era, an era in which online education is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach but instead, distance learning can be customized to just about anything you want to do and however you’d like your learning experience to take place.

Some people are still skeptical about the future of education, particularly as it relates to remote learning and online teaching. However, something you can’t ignore is that the face of education is changing – especially as it relates to distance learners.

Here are some of the most interesting developments that have begun to take place in the online education world. Some of them may surprise you!

The Future of Online Education: The Benefits 

Without a doubt, online learning is on the rise. More students than ever are turning to online programs (or even just one-time courses) to help them meet their personal and professional goals.

In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of all students will take an online class at least once while they are pursuing their degrees.

Hybrid courses, too, are growing increasingly popular as students find ways to combine distance learning with the traditional learning pace of in-class learning.

There are many benefits associated with online courses. Some students simply like the flexibility of online classes, while others appreciate how online classes allow them to pursue a degree without having to abandon other work or personal commitments.

For other students, an online degree is simply the most affordable alternative. The average undergraduate degree can cost well over $50,000, while the average online class can cost up to 50% less.

It’s not just tuition that’s lower but the overall cost, as online students aren’t tasked with paying for things like parking, transportation, room, and board as on-campus learners might be.

Online learning removes many of the barriers that are present for traditional education. Students can work from anywhere, with fewer limitations on how and when they can complete their studies.

Online courses present viable alternatives for students who can’t travel to campus because they have children to care for, are in the military, or live in a remote location.

With online education, you’ll develop vital time management skills that are absolutely necessary for real-world success. You can set your own learning pace and you’ll have the added flexibility of being able to set a schedule that meshes with your own agenda. You can easily balance your work and studies.

Plus, you’ll be able to pursue a wide variety of programs. While your local college might not offer a degree in quantum physics, you can bet that you’ll be able to find a course that suits your fancy online.

Studying your program of choice online may be your best bet for finding a degree that meets your unique career goals perfectly – without requiring you to step foot on a physical campus.

Many experts believe that online education isn’t just an option for future learning – it is the future of learning. As technology becomes more widely available, more students are gaining access to the knowledge and skills that can improve their career prospects and help them change the world – for the better.

Types of Online Education

Online education, at least in the modern context, now has many faces. There are several categories that an online course can fall into.

The first is adult online education. These kinds of programs are geared toward teaching basic reading, science, math, and problem-solving skills to adults lacking the basic skills they need to be successful in the workforce.

Another subset is online continuing education. This is best for learners who perhaps already have their degrees or are working in a certain field, but need to take just one or two classes to help advance their skills.

Usually, this kind of education doesn’t culminate in a degree upon completion. If you wanted to take a class just for fun, it might fall into this category, too. These kinds of courses can be both free and paid.

Online distance education is an option pursued by high school students or college students who are studying at or regular, traditional school – but might want to take a few (or all) of their classes online to make their schedules more flexible or expedite their progress to a degree.

Online higher education is for students who want to attend college but for whatever reason (such as health issues, familial responsibilities, or scheduling constraints) can’t attend on campus. These courses culminate in degrees – with all levels (associates, master’s, bachelor’s, doctoral, and certificate) available fully online.

Of course, there are both hybrid and fully-online versions of all of these options. All of them have seen dramatic improvements within the last few years – and even months

How Online Course Changed – for better

More Affordable

As online courses grow in popularity, they drop in cost. This interesting relationship has made it possible for students everywhere to pursue an education – even students who thought higher education would never be possible.

In fact, there are many websites that now offer completely free online courses. These courses, known as MOOCs or massive open online classes, have grown in their enrollment from just 5.5 million students in 2009 to more than 10 million in 2014 – and the numbers keep climbing.

Some of the most popular include Coursera, Edx, Udacity, and Udemy. The most popular online degrees through these platforms include finance, psychology, accounting, information technology, and business administration, but there is no limit to what you can choose to study. Other resources for free or inexpensive online courses include:

● iTunesU
● Stanford University
● UC Berkeley
● Duke (courses available via iTunesU)
● Open Yale
● Carnegie Mellon
● Harvard (select professional development courses are available for free online, with no need to apply for admission)

Diverse Learning Resources

Another way online learning has changed? It no longer takes a cookie-cutter approach to educating students.

As an online learner, you can not only set your own pace, but you can interact with course materials that are vastly different than what they were in the past. At the advent of distance learning, most courses consisted of pre-recorded lectures that were slapped online. You might have a few reading assignments to complete and some essays to write – and that was it.

Now, there is no limit to what kinds of learning resources you’ll find in your online learning platform. Online classes are often smaller than conventional courses, meaning you’ll be able to participate in a larger array of activities than you might if you were studying in a classroom.

Distance learning (and education in general, for that matter) is no longer about sitting in a room and listening to a professor spew information at you. Instead, you can interact with all kinds of diverse materials, including photos, videos, ebooks, discussions, chat rooms, and forums.

You can access this extra content from any location at any time of the day – offering you the opportunity for a more dynamic and tailor-made educational experience.


Microlearning is another trend in online education. It combines our affinity for learning with our notoriously short attention spans.

Let’s face it – humans can’t pay attention to anything for more than a few minutes at a time. As a result, it’s better to spend just a few minutes at once learning just the most essential pieces of information.

This is where microlearning comes into play. It’s the idea of using short-term strategies for learning so that you take in bite-sized pieces when it’s convenient for you.

One example of this is the mobile language learning app, Duolingo. With Duolingo, you learn one piece of the language at a time – just logging on whenever you have the chance. You’ll eventually learn a ton of information, but you won’t overwhelm your brain by trying to do it all at once.

Game-Based Learning

Online learning isn’t all fun and games, right? Wrong!

Today, you can take just about any online course and have fun doing it. Many online courses now incorporate game-based teaching, packaging education in a deceptive game-based setting. It’s not just for kids, either – even college courses now offer learners access to educational games that teach essential skills and concepts.

More “Human” Aspects

The ability to build a professional network with fellow students, instructors, and tutors is an essential aspect of an online degree or course. For many online learners, it can spell the difference between success and failure.

In the past, virtual courses have suffered a high drop-out rate – in some cases, as high as 95%. This is often due to the challenges faced by students studying on their own. This kind of independence can be freeing in that you have the ultimate flexibility over when to complete your coursework – but without the kind of personal attention to individual success, many students eventually just give up.

Therefore, many online courses now incorporate elements that are designed to create a sense of community and to bolster student success. There are more human recognition features and opportunities for learners to interact with their peers and instructors.

For example, most courses on LinkedIn Learning allow learners to engage in question and answer sessions with fellow students and teachers. Classes on Udacity often arrange social meet-ups and team-building exercises to build a sense of community.

There are other features that are built into online courses to help students succeed, too. Some universities now offer the same level of student support and activities that learners would have access to on campus. As an online student, you can access library services, join clubs, and participate in career development workshops.

Some online universities even have virtual sports teams that students can join! On Udacity, when you pass an assignment, you’ll receive a congratulatory message from an actual human over Skype.

These might seem like small developments on their own, but as a whole, they spell a bright future for online education. When you have access to a more human component of distance learning, you’ll feel a greater sense of self-worth and achievement. It’s always nice being appreciated by a human – rather than a computer!

Cross-Platform Learning

If you took an online course ten years ago, and it probably looked a lot like all of the other online courses out there. You would take the class on one platform (likely Blackboard, Moodle, or another similar service) and stay on that platform for the entire duration of the course.

Today’s online courses look a lot different. The introduction of smartphones has made it possible for learning to take place across all platforms. You might jump to one app for part of an assignment, then switch back to your main course module to complete the rest. You can learn in a million places at once!

Increased Collaborative Learning

Online learning can be isolating, particularly if you’re never able to interact with other students. Fortunately, online instructors are actively working to combat this concern.

More and more online courses are incorporating collaborative learning strategies, allowing students to participate in group projects, videoconferencing, email, texting, and workflow programs (like Slack and Trello) to stay connected to other learners.

Flipped Classroom

If you’ve ever spent hours on a homework assignment, only to find yourself stuck on one problem, you likely know the frustration that traditional learning can bring about.

With the flipped classroom one of the latest and greatest developments in online education, that is no longer the case. You’ll change the amount of time that is devoted to class lectures and homework. Rather than completing assignments at home, you’ll complete them in the classroom – so the teacher is there to help you if you get stuck. All lesson plans and classwork are delivered at home, through video lectures and tutorials.

The unique flipped classroom design doesn’t work for all courses, but it’s a good way for students in a hybrid learning environment to access online courses.

Mastery Learning

Many of today’s online schools and colleges make use of mastery learning. This concept has been around for quite some time but has grown in popularity with the advent and growing popularity of websites like Khan Academy.

With mastery learning, you’ll be required to master a skill or concept before you can move ahead. In most cases, that requires a 100% competency – not just 60 or 70%. Because of this, you’ll retest yourself constantly – but the benefit is that you can move on when you’re ready, rather than when the course deems it to be time.

Unique Assessment Methods

Even tests and quizzes don’t have the same face as before. With any kind of class, it’s essential that an instructor be able to determine your progress to chart your success. Today’s online courses have unique methods of assessment – so unique, in fact, that you might not even always realize you are being assessed.

In the past, you may have had to travel to a campus testing location in order to take a final exam. Today, online courses use tools like ProProfs to assess learners. ProProfs is a tool that educators can use to develop fun and engaging quizzes for their students, making assessment fun and more reliable.

New Developments in Education Technology

Education is increasingly becoming high-tech – and as you might expect, those developments have extended to the online campus. The changes in the world of technology are directly impacting learning systems everywhere.

For example, education technology has made it possible for teachers to initiate custom teaching and learning methodologies. There are all kinds of gadgets, interfaces, and apps that can be used to address each student’s individual needs.

One of these is cloud computing. Cloud computing has made it possible for the information to be stored and accessed at any time or any place. You can now access courseware and other educational materials from any device.

Keep reading a book or collaborate with your teacher on your smartphone – you don’t have to be at home to do it, because all of your devices are synced.

There are also new speech to text options that make it easier for students to dictate assignments. Most devices and apps now have virtual assistant features, such as APple’s Siri.

You can deliver voice commands to make note-taking, writing, and completing assignments quicker and more comfortable than ever.

Even learning analytics is an area of online education that is seeing major changes. In the past, it was incredibly difficult for teachers leading online courses to know how to assess and evaluate student engagement, learning, and progress.

Now, learning analytics systems can alert teachers to issues, such as poor student participation and even plagiarism.

On the flip side, these analytics can help students, too, letting them know when deadlines are approaching and how they are charting when it comes to their progress. These kinds of learning systems will help online teachers and students improve their overall engagement and success in the online space.

AI & Virtual Reality

Augmented intelligence and virtual reality are also boosting online education. Although these are both considered education technology, they are so impactful that they deserve mention all on their own. With VR and AR, learners can access a truly immersive learning experience – all without needing to get out of their desk chairs.

Want to learn about space? You can run a 3D space video on your VR headgear. Need to learn more about critical surgical operations for your pre-med program? Real-time broadcasting of these procedures will allow you to learn in a low-risk setting.

What to Look For in the Future of Remote Learning

There are some features of the modern classroom that will continue to play a role in the future of online education.

For starters, there will always be a human teacher. Many of the traditional methods of education have gone out the window, but for students to be successful, there are’ many ways to replace the expertise and personality of a real-life teacher. Teachers play an influential role in teaching content and helping students learn how to deal with others, and that’s not going to go away any time soon.

There are some challenges left for the remote learning space to overcome, however. For example, there is a huge amount of choice.

In most cases, this level of choice is a good thing – but that kind of choice can also lead to a higher disparity in the quality of online resources, teaching methods, and student support. It can be tough for an undiscerning eye to know what to look for when it comes to choosing an online course.

For some people, taking an online course can feel isolating. Fortunately, there are many ways you can now get involved in an online course that simply were not possible in the past.

Online learning offers all kinds of ways that you can interact with your instructors and peers – as long as you choose the right course. Most distance learning classes offer some face-to-face time with teachers and students with virtual lessons, chat rooms, forums, and even regular meet-ups.

Take advantage of these opportunities if they are available to you! That way, you can bounce ideas off each other or get moral support (or career advice!) as needed. This is also a great way to boost and build your professional network.

If you’re thinking about taking an online course, you may want to look into its accreditation first. That way, you can make sure your course is approved by the organizations with which you would like to pursue employment or receive certification later on.

Another good option is to look into student reviews. Reading testimonials from students who have taken a course before can give you a good idea of whether it’s something you want to continue to pursue – or whether it’s best for you to keep looking.

Ultimately, the future of online education is bright – as long as you know what to look for and are always willing to learn.

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Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah Pierce is a writer with a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and a Master’s in Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh. She has worked both as a college admissions counselor as well as a high school English teacher and has also written extensively on topics related to educational technology and the college selection process.

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