In the past, full time employees desirous of pursuing tertiary education had to simply resort to attending classes in the evenings after a hectic work day, or on the weekends. Familial demands and other personal commitments often meant pushing educational advancement to the back-burner. Today, it is much easier and rewarding for individuals to pursue their education not through traditional classroom settings, but through a virtual learning environment.
The University of Edinburgh (2017) define online learning as a way of studying for a locally and internationally recognised qualification without needing to attend classes on campus. It is aimed at those who wish to study for a postgraduate qualification alongside work or other commitments. Online education is becoming an important long-term strategy for many postsecondary institutions. Given the rapid growth of online education and its importance for postsecondary institutions, it is imperative that institutions of higher education provide quality online programs.
According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, today’s students are now exposed and live in a technological era in which they are engulfed with an array of mobile technological devices and learning tools that include, Computers, Smartphones and Tablets and E-readers; interactive audio or videoconferencing tools such as Skype, webcasts, instructional videos via CD-ROMs or DVDs and computer-based systems transmitted through the Internet (Aud, Hussar, & Kena, 2011). Programmes are delivered in courses that you can complete at times convenient to you. Online programmes deliver programme content and opportunities to interact with other students in a number of ways such as virtual learning environment, e.g. Moodle, Learn or Blackboard Collaborate, wikis, blogs, discussion boards and forums, video streaming services, e.g. YouTube or Vimeo, virtual worlds, e.g. Second Life just to name a few.
It is no surprise that educational institutions are now utilising these media to reach a wider audience of individuals who are keen on furthering their education. Globally, higher education utilises online teaching methods to ensure that a wide array of courses are being taught and accessible to individuals worldwide. In response to these changes in enrolment demands, many institutions, and organisations have been working on strategic plans to implement online education.
At the same time, misconceptions and myths related to the difficulty of teaching and learning online, technologies available to support online instruction, the support and compensation of learning opportunities are available for students in a highly competitive technological arena. Almost if not all institutions of higher education have increasingly embraced online education, and the number of students enrolled in distance education programs is rapidly rising. Colleges and universities now recruit high-quality instructors to develop courses that satisfy the educational demands of individuals worldwide. With the cost of higher education rapidly rising and the challenges experienced by students in funding their education, online distance education has now become an attractive prospect for potential students. The needs of online students create challenges for such vision statements and planning documents.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS)
Massive popular online education platforms such as edX, Udemy, Coursera are MOOC’s widely used by individuals worldwide. Here in the Caribbean, we have the University of the West Indies, Open Campus, the online distance education arm of the UWI alongside the three brick and mortar campuses located at Mona, Jamaica, Cave Hill, Barbados, and St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. The Open Campus offers undergraduate, postgraduate or continuing and professional education programmes and courses that are accessed by individuals across the Caribbean. Courses are offered in a blended format consisting of either online or face-to-face lectures which are held at local Open Campus Country sites (OCCS) across the region.
The University of the West Indies Open Campus -Bahamas
Technology has played and continues to play an important role in the development and expansion of online education. The development of new technology continues to have an impact on learning. While on the one hand, new technology allows schools and instructors to offer learning in new ways, educators nonetheless continue to face limitations imposed by technology, and sometimes the lack of technology. Rovai (2002) emphasized the four interacting components that provides a sense of community within the online learning environment, which are: connectedness, interdependency, socialization, and common goals. The learning process is strengthened and sustainable when institutions help students feel committed and satisfied with their online practices and when they experience a strong sense of community within the learning environment (Tinto, 1993). Rovai (2002) also posited that a strong feeling of community and camaraderie among students is crucial, not only to increase diligence in coursework, but also to encourage cooperation and commitment among students and help them to achieve their individual goals as students. For students that have a need to communicate with their peers and instructors, they can schedule chat sessions and online group discussions to participate and respond to questions, assignments, problems, and projects in real time (Barr & Miller, 2013) This will reduce isolation in the online learning environment as this is not the case in the familiar face-to-face format of traditional education.
Online education has emerged in all levels of the school environment; vocational institutions and colleges are incorporating online classes at an increasing rate. With advances in technology, clearly we should use the internet as a supplemental tool but with the level of education necessary for us to compete in the world economy, we must conduct due diligence to determine which classes are to be offered at what level and to whom, in order for online learning to be credible. Our education system needs a drastic overhaul for us to remain competitive in the global market. Online learning offers the convenience of time and space, capability of reaching a greater student population, and draws the attention of a new group of digital learners. Rovai (2002) proposed that instructors, who embrace supportive methodologies, may help students feel connected through a strong sense of community, leading to a productive and successful online experience.
Online education has made great strides in recent years. For starters, more and more institutions of higher learning have introduced or reinforced their online education platforms, the main considerations being cost reduction for students and recruitment expansion in the face of rising competition. As a result, online education has become an increasingly important part of tertiary education, with colleges and universities using world-famous faculty members and professional support teams to promote online courses.
Is online learning the future for higher education? Will universities continue to have an increase in enrolments for online programmes? Online learning is an ever-evolving, ever-changing system (Shea-Schultz, Forgarty, 2002). We should wait and see.
Aud, S., Hussar, W. & Kena, G. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011. Washington, DC:
National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education.
Barr, B.A., & Miller, S.F. (2013). Higher Education: The Online Teaching and Learning
Experience. School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix. Retrieved March 11,
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Rovai, A.P. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. International Review of Research
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Shea-Shultz, H., & Fogarty, J. (2002) Online learning today: Strategies that work, San Francisco,
CA: Barrett Koehler. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/79/152.
The University of Edinburgh (2016, June 30). What is online learning? Retrieved from
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. (2nd
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