Distance education programmes have seen a rapid expansion in the past few years and especially with the advent of Internet and affordable online learning platforms its popularity has seen a steep rise. Online education is the use of internet or web based learning platforms to deliver and conduct training programmes. According to available statistics, online education programmes are being used by almost all sectors, including medicine, to fulfill various levels of training needs.
The pros of using online educational programmes:
For many institutions the most fundamental benefit in using online educational programmes is their ability to cater to a wider audience which may not otherwise be able to physically be present at a designated place. At the same time, the freedom from time restrictions meaning that the tutors and the learners need not be there at the same time, is also an attractive feature in the online mode.
In reality, an online training programme needs more work in its development at the very beginning and the cost and the human resources involved in continuing and upgrading the programme may not be as extensive. Thus, when considering the material and human resource requirements if the same programme is conducted as a face-to-face programme could be higher in a traditional face-to-face programme than in an online one.
Another advantage of making use of online educational programme is its ability to make use of multimedia technologies and web 2.0 technologies in achieving acceptable learning principles such as adult learning, student centered learning, problem based learning and communities of practice. Thus, thoughtful incorporation of interactive multimedia and social networking will enhance learning and collaboration building between students-students and the student-teachers.
At the same time, online learning can cater to different types of learners and these are the visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners…etc. This may prove useful as in a face-to-face teaching programme, achieving this may not be possible in most instances.
At present, online educational programmes have the ability to go mobile and learners are thus able to learn through their mobile phones while engaging in their usual work practices. This can greatly enhance the practice of ‘just in time learning’ in relation to professional training programmes.
Apart from the above advantages, the learners will be able to work at their own pace, be able to make use of suitable time for their learning, reduce time needed to travel long distances for learning, reduce the costs involved in terms of finding accommodation and travelling, as well as carry on with their routine work practices while devoting enough time for the leaning requirements.
The cons of online educational programmes:
When looking at the disadvantages of online training programmes, the isolated nature of some of the programmes may prove disastrous for some and could lead to a higher drop-out rate in online educational programmes. Furthermore, the inability to master useful communication skills and other socializing skills could also be a disadvantage for some of the students. Similarly, a student has to be relatively competent in handling a computer and using internet in order to successfully follow an online educational programme. At times this may prove a little bit too much in relation to certain students.
Online education may not be suitable for certain training programmes, because they require hands on practice such as in the case of clinical work for medical subjects. At the same time, unless the students are motivated enough, there are instances in which assigned tasks and online student participation may not be up to the mark. This can adversely affect their learning as well as the success of a particular online training programme.
For some institutions, finding and training adequate number of online tutors will be a difficulty. As such, the workload handled by each tutor can be excessive and it can therefore lead to a deterioration of the programmes quality.
When looking at the technical aspect, it is extremely important to have technical backing 24/7 and any breakdown in the system may disrupt the learning process and could lead to a derailment of the learning targets. At the same time, maintaining such a technical support may not be a cheap task.