We've been an on-the-go society for a long time now. Many of us face a multitude of tasks each day with limited hours to accomplish all of them. Now that technology is caught up, we have the well-functioning tools needed to supplement this kind of lifestyle—and more and more colleges are taking notice.
A survey from Babson Research Study Group showed that the number of students enrolled in one or more online course has reached 7 million, with 33 percent of all students in higher education involved in online learning.
The survey also showed 74.1 percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face classes, while 65.9 percent of chief academic leaders said online education is critical to their long-term strategy.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., Cornerstone University has recently developed several online courses designed for undergrads wishing to continue education outside of the typical academic calendar all the while never having to be physically on campus. (Other areas of the university like the Theological Seminary and the Professional & Graduate Studies Program have offered online courses for several years).
Since the university doesn't offer courses on campus during the summer, the addition of online courses allows students to continue their education at Cornerstone while at home and at their own leisure. This is an ideal situation for those who work during the summer and want to maintain their own schedule, while maintaining the same CU standards through the season.
"We're moving away from the idea that the teacher controls everything," said Martin Hughes, dean of undergraduate education at Cornerstone.
Hughes said online courses at Cornerstone are developed on a teacher-by-teacher basis. And while online courses offer the students some flexibility to build around their own time, there is still the understanding that students are progressing in the course in the same time frame designed by the teacher.
Cornerstone recognizes flexibility being key for those who may be only part-time students, have a family, or are employed full time. Mobile technology and online courses can transform any location—whether it is a home, coffee shop, etc.—into a classroom.
Another benefit of online courses is that they are less expensive than traditional courses.
Despite online courses creating the anywhere, anytime classroom, Cornerstone still sees the traditional classroom as the ideal educational environment.
"Everyone in the Cornerstone community agrees that there is something of real value to interpersonal face-to-face education," Hughes said.
He said that the traditional setting remains ideal because having a shared space for interaction means teachers can read the body language of students and can make modifications to the course along the way based off it.
While Hughes said he couldn't speak for every teacher, he did say he imagines online instructors would be willing to meet with an online student if requested and both are in the area.
"All teachers this summer will be based in the Grand Rapids area," he said. "I'm assuming in the future teachers will be teaching an online course from wherever they are in the summer. Hopefully it allows them to enjoy the same flexibility."
For the time being, online courses at Cornerstone will remain a summer-only option, outside of the standard academic calendar.
"Some schools offer it, but I don't think Cornerstone has the intention of that in the immediate future. We see it as a supplement outside of the academic calendar. We'll maybe revisit that situation down the line if it's good; we don't want online courses to compete with traditional ones."
As technology continues to advance, and the typical student continues to evolve, Cornerstone—like many other places of higher education—continues to develop online offerings to fit the student, rather than always making the student fit to them.
For more info on Cornerstone's online offerings, including computer hardware requirements and more, click here.