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Online Learning Has Its Ups and Downs

By ROBERT A. DEFRANK

Staff Writer

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Online learning is a potential path to learning and certification for those seeking education but unable to find class time,

Rebecca Kurtz, vice president of academic affairs and student learning at Belmont College, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of online learning and the qualities and personal characteristics in students that determine success.

She pointed out that basic skills in technology are needed to employ the tools of learning.

“The student has to have some technical skills. They need to be able to use computer programs, to save and upload documents and do research online, so they have to have a baseline of technical skills.”

She also stressed the need for good communication in formats other than in person.

“Students who are successful also have some writing skills. They need to be able to communicate somewhat effectively in writing, compile coherent sentences to express their ideas.”

Another key factor is self-motivation. “Students need motivation to succeed in online learning. They need to be motivated to learn because a lot of the material and instruction is provided, but they have to spend the time needed to successfully complete the assignments and the course requirements.

“There’s a rumor out there that online education is easier, that it’s a shortcut, but it’s not. Many of our students find it harder than the on-ground courses, because they’re at a distance and the instructor’s not right in front of them. This motivation is the drive to spend the time that they need to spend to successfully complete the assignments.

“It’s the same course as the traditional on-ground course, except the students are taking it from a distance,” Kurtz said. “There’s no shortcuts. The learning objectives are the same.”

She noted another key quality for students to develop is time management skills.

“Even though they’re not sitting in a classroom, online courses require them to spend time online,” she said, noting that the assignments have specific due dates.

“Students need to plan ahead.”

She added that even with all these qualities, online courses may not be suited to a particular student.

“Individual students have different learning styles. Some of them still need to be in class, taking notes, reading from a printed textbook. The learning style of the individual student has to be taken into consideration.”

However, Kurtz also pointed out the many advantages online learning can provide for those suitable to the method.

“It provides a flexibility in scheduling,” she said, noting the student can go online at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. to complete course assignments.

“There’s more access to education to those who work all day and can’t go to a classroom, or for some reason cannot attend in person. Online learning increases educational access to those who can’t physically be here.”

Other conveniences are a savings of commuting time as well as the convenience of completing their course activities when they can concentrate best.

“We find that students in online time have greater engagement with their learning. The whole online environment creates a milieu,” she said.

“They can engage with their learning so much better because they’re choosing the time and place, and while they’re doing this, they can simultaneously be developing their technology skills, which are really needed in today’s world.”

Kurtz also noted the training that teachers undergo to best conduct classes over the internet.

She said online teachers at Belmont College are required to complete an online teaching course focusing on implementing the curriculum and how to facilitate student success.

This training also teaches them to make use of various resources and platforms such as YouTube and video sites for research purposes, as well as online textbooks.

Kurtz said there are hybrid classes available for students who would prefer a combination of online and on-ground education.

She noted Belmont College also provides Apple iPads for a common learning platform for the convenience of students, whether online or on-ground.

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