There’s More to Online Learning Than Classes

Dec 16, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

In the age of “instant,” online learning has joined the fray, and not just with classes.  Bookstores, libraries, classrooms, and enrollment all have “instant” online access for increasing numbers of universities around the world.  Classrooms are flipping—and digitized apps help you make learning active.  See for yourself. 


1. Digital Bookstores and Digital Libraries

Gone are the days of showing up with your syllabi and combing the aisles and stacks of books for your courses and required materials.  Increasingly, college bookstores are going digital, changing the scope—and purpose—of the college bookstore.  In fact, many college bookstores no longer carry books—making the title “bookstore” obsolete. Schools like American University in Washington, D.C., Stony Brook University in New York, and Heidelberg University in Ohio have taken books off the shelves entirely.  What do their “bookstores” sell?  Logo merchandise.  Coffee mugs.  

What do students do instead?  Buy or rent books online—and increasingly they access most of their course materials online. Companies like Akadémos, Chegg, Follett, and Barnes and Noble works with colleges and universities to create “virtual bookstores” for students—and they’re succeeding. 

The move to digital libraries closely parallels the transition from “brick and mortar” bookstore to online.  Libraries are still for working and studying, but not in the same way.  University and public libraries throughout the US are moving to a “Virtual Library” model.  What are virtual libraries?  Vast collections of resources available on more than one computer system—available to virtual library card holders.  Universities throughout the US and the world are consistently undergoing re-design to accommodate the “virtual” student, with the need for wireless access space.

The benefits of virtual bookstores and libraries?  Increased access to information and knowledge.  And as we know: with great knowledge comes great power—and great responsibility. 


2. Flipped Classrooms

Students come to class already having accessed the lesson—virtually or digitally—and use class time to reinforce understanding, ask questions, engage in relevant, productive conversation, collaborate, and create academic community around an idea.  Here’s why it works: you, the student, are at the center of your learning.  The professor is important, but you drive your process—and you’re forced to take a pro-active approach to your education.  You have to do more than show up, take a few notes, and submit a few homework problems.  You must arrive to class prepared, with questions, ready to work.  While it doesn’t work for every discipline or every lesson, the availability of digital tools, pre-recorded “lectures” or lessons, and interactive course modules make flipped classrooms a welcome reality—and one that engages students.  Check out flipped classrooms at Central Michigan University


3. Active Learning

MIT’s Office of Digital Learning offers an array of tools that empower active learning through technology—from “mathlets” to annotation studios, and lightboard lectures to crowdsourced grading, active learning is where it’s at. 

Digital learning promotes active learning.  What’s active learning?  Should you pull on a tracksuit, and “actively” learn?  No.  Digital learning tools offer access and depth of instruction when used correctly.  The student who won’t ask a question out loud in class might post a question on a class wiki or discussion board.  When all students have access to learning—it’s more likely that they’ll learn—and want to learn more.   


4. Online Enrollment and More

Physically waiting in line or calling in your registration are obsolete.  At hundreds of colleges and universities around the world, students register for course using mobile apps.  Not only can you enroll online, but you can also access your transcripts, add and drop classes, and access financial aid information, and get your campus email.  All with a swipe and a tap… or two.      

In the 21st century reality of online learning, there’s more to life than just classes—from bookstores to libraries to flipped classrooms and back again.  What’s it all about?  Access.  Opportunity.  Education.  Doing the best you can with everything the world—online and in-person—has to offer. 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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