One big question that many people have regarding an online education is “how does it work?” How can an instructor who lives in California or Maine possibly provide effective, interactive instruction for students who are located all over New Mexico or the rest of the country? The answer to that question is “technology” and is so fully encompassing and powerful that many people who experience an online education the first time are simply stunned by the possibilities. Professional educators and teachers all over the world with decades of experience have worked to create online education programs and they are satisfied that online classes provide as thorough an educational experience as a traditional classroom course. Here is a list and explanation of just some of the educational tools being used today to facilitate online learning:
E-mail: You would almost naturally assume that e-mail would be an integral part of an online education and it certainly is. From receiving updates from the instructor to being able submit questions about your work or requirements, e-mail is a vital part of the online educational experience.
Podcasts: Podcasts are audio recordings that can be accessed and listened to by others or downloaded and saved for future listening. Not much different than a traditional e-mail message for delivering content, many instructors prefer to use podcasts to communicate with students, especially when it comes to giving feedback for work done. A podcast can either be publically available or privately available to individual students. Another benefit of this technology is for instructors who don’t like typing very much. Rather than receiving a paper (document) from a student and having to try to mark it up with comments, the instructor can simply “speak into the microphone” with their comments as they review the work, then make that audio recording available to you.
Chat Rooms: Online chat rooms are a popular tool used between students to facilitate study groups and the exchanging of information in a quick Question and Answer manner that discussion board posts and e-mails do not allow for. On rare occasion professors may attempt to bring the entire class together in a chat room for a discussion but this is rare since online students tend to have wildly diverging and different schedules of availability for when they could attend such a gathering.
Discussion Boards: Discussion board postings allow for the uploading and submitting of files for assignments, posting of syllabuses, and commentary back and forth between the professor and the students. Many online classes will have postings to an online discussion board as a part of the graded requirement for the class.
Blackboard: Blackboard Academic Suite and other software like it are a cunning combination of the above technologies and others, that help to tie everything together required for an online education. Not all online schools use Blackboard, but most schools will use it or something like it. In use and undergoing revisions for more than a decade now, such programs are the core enablers of online education environments.