The following is written by Dr. Jay Spencer, HBU associate vice president for Digital/Online Operations. Dr. Spencer is a veteran of higher education recruitment, admissions and academic affairs. He began his career in 1988, becoming a pioneer in distance education. He has held various positions in higher education including vice president of Enrollment Management and dean of Distance Learning. Prior to coming to HBU, he was vice provost of Liberty University where he started a K-12 Online Academy, and oversaw the development of a complete K-12 online curriculum. It grew to reach more than 6,000 students nationwide and in 24 foreign countries.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in the world over the last 30 years, but none that has changed as much as education. It used to be that a high school diploma was necessary in order to make a decent living. In the 80s, with a changing economy, a bachelor’s degree became an absolute requirement to obtain many professional jobs. I remember my first job out of college – during the interview, the hiring manager said he couldn’t have even interviewed me unless I had a college degree. He didn’t care what I majored in, it could have been basket-weaving for all he cared (his words)!
Today, our economy has drastically shifted, and so has the job market. With new requirements across multiple professions, employers now have greater expectations for what they want to see as a result of education and the degree you’ve earned. Increased competition in the workplace has certainly contributed to a greater demand for higher education. In some occupations, it seems that a graduate degree has replaced the bachelor’s degree in importance, especially pertaining to career advancement. Don’t misunderstand me, an undergraduate degree is still valuable and has certainly replaced the high school diploma as a minimum educational requirement. As such, there are significantly more students studying for an undergraduate degree today than a graduate degree.
Most online students are adults who have varying expectations for the degree they are pursuing. Some are completing the degree to achieve their next promotion or step in their career, while others are there to learn an entirely new field of study. If you find yourself in need of additional education, whether it be undergraduate or graduate, in order to advance in your career and optimize your earning potential, the question becomes not “if,” but “how?”
“How do I go back to school with a job, familial, social and church responsibilities?”
Just as the need for education has changed, so has the way we obtain it. It’s no secret that online education has grown dramatically over the past decade. Nearly seven million students are now studying online with more enrollments each year. As people become more comfortable living and working in an online-centric world, it only makes sense that online education would become increasingly appealing to more students, especially when you consider the advantages of doing so compared to the restrictions of attending a physical campus.
But as online education has continued to grow, so have the questions about the quality of an online education over the traditional classroom. In some institutions, this is a legitimate concern. A number of universities now offer both programs and courses entirely online. So how do you know that a university ensures that the quality of education you will receive online is equivalent to the education received in a traditional classroom setting? There are several things you need to consider before choosing the school you will attend:
This is important as you consider attending a particular university. Regional accreditation is the highest standard of certification a university can receive. It ensures the student that the education they will receive has been peer-evaluated and meets high standards of instruction. HBU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The SACSCOC mission statement is “to assure the educational quality and improve the effectiveness of its member institutions.” This is a rigorous process that involves a constant assessment and evaluation of the programs offered by HBU – both residentially and online – and helps you to know that HBU offers quality programs of study.
- Comparability of Learning
Central to the concept of online learning, quality is the concept of alignment, which is evident when all elements work together to ensure achievement of desired learning outcomes: learning objectives, measurement and assessment, educational materials, interaction and engagement of learners, and course technology. These are the same principles that are valued in the traditional classroom setting, but are simply achieved through different means. Thus, instructional design for online courses is extremely important.
- Quality Course Design
Some faculty believe they can simply place the same content they teach in the classroom online. This sounds great, but it’s not that simple. Adult learners, who comprise the majority of online education consumers, are looking for more than what’s traditionally taught in the classroom. Online instructional design has become a career in and of itself. Tamela Crickenberger, HBU Online director of Course Development states, “Some best practices for online course design include creating opportunities for student engagement — student-to-student and student-to-professor —as online learners often feel isolated when learning from a distance. It is also important to determine the level of learning needed in order to show competency in a subject and use instructional techniques and tools that are appropriate in demonstrating the appropriate level of competency. For example, if a student should be able to apply human resource principles and law to effectively recruit, select, train and retain employees by the end of the course, using a quiz-type of assessment will not measure the level of learning needed for this course outcome. Finally, a good online course uses different types of media to ensure there is content that is effective for all learning styles.”
- Making the Transition
HBU Online has assembled a team that is both knowledgeable and skilled in assisting students in making the transition to a digital learning environment through the use of several tools and resources. One of the most valuable resources to new HBU Online students is the orientation course, which is designed to help them understand how to navigate their classes. Students will learn how to navigate the course operating system,learn what is expected of them and how to stay engaged with the course and their classmates. However, becoming an online student is not without its challenges. Pursuing a degree online requires a little more drive and initiative than that of the traditional classroom environment. With that in mind, here are a few of the tips we provide to students as they begin their pursuit of a higher education: a. Read the course syllabus and schedule: Know what is expected of you every step of the way in your courses by reading the syllabus and course schedule. The syllabus will tell you everything you need to know about course objectives, learning outcomes, assignments, policies and procedures for each class. Additionally, the schedule is a great way for you to plan ahead for the duration of the class by knowing what assignments are due each week. Nothing will be a surprise! b. Get acquainted with your professor and fellow students: One of the secrets to successfully adjusting to online education is engagement with the professor and other students in your course. Take an active role in your education by discussing ideas and sharing questions with your professor and fellow students. To gain the best help from a professor, don’t be afraid to ask questions and share what you already know and understand. In so doing, they may provide instruction that is meaningful to your needs, as well as the needs of others in the course. Additionally, good dialogue involves clarity in expressing ideas and seeking information. The following are examples of requests that are too general: “I don’t understand,” or “Please help.” These would be better stated: “I understand that I am to write a paper on George Washington, but the directions do not tell me how long the paper should be and how many sources I am to use from my research.” c. Submit assignments on time: As mentioned before, your syllabus and course schedule will provide you with due dates for your assignments, as will your course content each week. Your professor should also make you aware on a weekly basis of what assignments are due and when. Planning ahead is a major key to success, especially for any major written assignments such as a research paper! d. Be organized: Organization propels both progress and success. Daily organizational structure and strong study skills are fundamental elements to online learning achievement! Many of our students have found that keeping a physical binder to take notes while studying lessons is an excellent way to increase learning. The notes also provide a convenient means for review before taking quizzes or tests, and allows you to review when you are away from the computer, or have lost access due to technical difficulty. There is no shortcut to learning, but academic success is at the end of the path marked by order and perseverance. e. Be an active learner: Take time to take careful notes, memorize important terms and definitions, and to understand facts and concepts from the lessons. Remember, you will use what you learn today as the foundation for what you will learn tomorrow.
Based on the changes in education over the last several decades, it’s safe to say that the future of education will continue to evolve with the times. Both increased demand and certain technological advances, such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence, will alter the dynamics of the field. HBU will be there, ready to greet the future of learning when it does!