This part of the guide will define some basic concepts of online education, list and explain various online learning terms, and touch upon the differences between online and traditional classroom education.

Chapter 1

What is Online Education?

Online, or distance learning, is a type of education in which the learner is not located in the same room as the educator. Students who learn through online education perform the same tasks that a traditional student does, but they are not in proximity to the provider of education.

An online educational program is considered to be one that has at least 80% of its content delivered through the Internet. Online education first began through correspondence schools but has expanded over decades to include a wider variety of educational experiences. In the past few years, online education has grown at a rapid pace.

This type of education is practical, flexible and affordable because it is done over the Internet. The process uses modern technology that is widely available, such as a home computer and Internet access, as well as audio and video equipment that can be used for interactive learning. Students who participate in online education can enroll at a wide variety of organizations and institutions.

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The variety of courses for online education has grown as well. The options now include all levels of education, from preschool to post-doctoral studies. Students can learn from simple tutorials on how to use a piece of new software or take a graduate level class in advanced logistic regression toward a degree at major universities around the world.

How Does It Work?

There are many different online learning methods that all work to deliver information from educators to learners. The programs may be created and delivered through traditional two-year associate's degree programs at community colleges, four-year bachelor's degree programs at universities or private online schools for vocational training and other learning needs.

The information may be delivered through a web-based virtual classroom and accessed through an online portal that requires a username and password login. Another option includes software-based education, which may consist of thumb drives, flash drives or disks with video and audio materials.

Learning may also take place through specialized software learning platforms. These online environments consist of audio, visual and text-based resources. They might include YouTube videos, lectures, real-time instruction and podcasts as well as the use of traditional printed textbooks. Forum discussions are also an important element of these programs.

Interactive, real-time learning is growing in use and consists of video lectures, interaction with the lecturers and conversing with other students by text, voice chats, webcams or a combination of these methods. When a student completes a task, such as submission of a written assignment or taking an online quiz, the educators grade the work and deliver feedback through an email, text or comment box through the web portal.

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Grading of a student's work may also be done through live presentations and discussions. This is more common for graduate level work. Students who are taking an online educational program through a university may be required to attend an examination at a location of the university's choice while a proctor monitors the examination. Hybrid online educational programs and other types of online education will be covered in Chapter 2 of this guide.

Origin and Highlights of Online Education

Online education may have begun at the University of Illinois in 1960, with its Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) program. The use of PLATO advanced through the 1970s and grew to be in use on more than 1,000 computers around the world.

PLATO offered educational opportunities from the elementary to university level. It was used by students at the University of Illinois as well as other universities and local public school systems. PLATO was a pioneer in online forums, email, chatting, screen sharing, learning games, and testing.

As technology advanced, Nova Southeastern University began an accredited graduate degree program through online courses. In 1985, it awarded the first online doctorate degree. In 1986, CALCampus was the first program to implement an entirely online school. It provided real-time classroom instruction and Internet-based materials for student use. The Mind Extension University created by Glenn Jones delivered telecourses to many colleges. In 1987, it allowed for student to instructor interaction through email.

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By 1996, the first fully accredited online university was established. Jones International University began enrolling students from around the world. The next year, institutions such as Yale University's medical school and the University of Pittsburgh initiated an e-learning system utilizing MySql as its database. Their Interactive Learning Network ILN 1.5 was considered revolutionary in 1997.

Modern Online Education

As the Internet became widely available and affordable throughout the nation, online education expanded at a rapid pace. By 2012, the University of Wisconsin opened its Flexible Options educational program, which offered BA degrees online through its public university system. In 2014, the University of Florida system launched its UF Online program, which at the time was the first online-only public university in the United States.

New technologies have allowed for distance learning programs to change from printed correspondence to online video conferences in less than a decade. As a leader in online education, Colorado State University has put together a full-service package for its students.

This university's program includes recorded video lectures from professors working in the field and real-time instruction. Students listen to podcasts conducted by their professors, read online content and discuss topics together through chat rooms and monitored discussion forums with instructor input.

Online Education Compared to Traditional Education

While online education may have begun as an alternative to traditional education, recent studies show that a majority of students have participated in at least one online course. In a 2013 study conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, 7.1 million students reported that they had taken at least one college-level online class.

In a similar 2014 study, the Survey of Online Learning, the Babson Survey Research Group reported that 74.1% of academic leaders considered learning outcomes from online education to be equal or better than the results from traditional face-to-face learning opportunities.

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