5 Popular Trends in Online Higher Education


*Guest Blog Post by Ethan Miller

5 Popular Trends in Online Higher Education

I understood the importance of education at a very young age. My father ensured that he made me realize that how privileged I was to attend schools and to have an opportunity to pursue college education. My father had to give up his higher education dreams as his family couldn’t afford to send him half away across the country for college. And the circumstances were such that he couldn’t leave his remote town either. He was a self-made man and it was his emphasis on education that has got me so far in life.

When I think of it, I believe that my father would have loved to be growing up in present times as education is easily accessible to everyone irrespective of their financial situation and geographic location. With the advancement of internet and technology, not just our teaching methods have transformed but also our classrooms have been transported online. Thanks to e-learning, education is available just a click away to anyone who wants it. Online Learning industry is growing rapidly, and more and more students are preferring to opt for online courses as it allows them to experience classroom learning by sitting at home.

While some might argue that it can’t match the conventional teaching practices, I think it’s biggest advantage is that it gives education opportunities to students in the remotest parts of the world. Many colleges and universities have started offering online courses.  While the world is still skeptical about e-learning and is trying to figure out how online higher education works, I bring you 5 popular trends in online education that underlines the effectiveness of online programs:


  • Gamification: One of the emerging trends in online higher Education (also my personal favorite) is gamification, which taps on the competitive nature of students and attempts to make learning a fun filled experience. Education based videogames have already proved to be useful in helping school students learn concepts of math, history and geography etc. Gamification has transformed my ESL classrooms as students spend more time in fun reward-based projects than writing long often boring essays. Taking a cue from MineCraftEdu, many colleges have started to gamify their online courses through video games, simulators and online activities that help students to understand the concepts by applying them in practical situations. Few online MBA courses provide their online students with a simulator platform that allows them to run a company and justify their decisions in front of virtual board members. The primary idea of gamification is adding fun elements to dry subject topics in order to improve the level of student understanding.    


  • Synchronous Instruction: One of the drawbacks of online education is said to be the lack of classroom experience and socializing with other students. The growing trend of Synchronous Instruction in online learning can put an end to this problem. Synchronous Instruction transports the whole classroom experience online by allowing students to interact with professors and other students through live video streaming, podcasts etc. Also known as real-time instruction, it facilitates face to face discussion between professors and students. It makes the students feel involved in the subject, take part in discussions, ask questions and get instant feedback. Few online college courses have started to use Synchronous Instruction for creating mock drills and simulating real life experiences like pitching ideas to the clients by hiring actors to play as clients in order to help the online students gain hands on experience before they go out in the real world.     


  • Asynchronous Instruction: Considered to be the anti-thesis of synchronous instruction, asynchronous learning is considered to be the torchbearer of personalized learning in online education. Asynchronous instruction involves professors sharing lessons, study material, notes, presentations etc. through email and other doc sharing platforms that can be accessed by students at their convenience. It allows students to study and learn at their own pace, something that is considered almost impossible in synchronous instruction and conventional classroom setup. Students, who are shy or introvert, enjoy asynchronous learning as it gives them chance to manage the pace of learning as well as gives them a platform to discuss their problems and shortcomings with professors in private. It also helps the professors to gauge a student’s understanding of the subject with ease. Asynchronous Instruction has been there since the advent of online education, but it is popular even today thanks to its scope of personalized learning.  


  • Competency-Based Learning: Inspired from project-based learning that has become popular in schools these days, competency-based learning seems to be a trend that is catching up in e-learning community. In competency-based learning, students’ understanding is not measured by tests or exams but through practical application of the concepts in a project. Irrespective of the field of study, many online college courses have embraced competency-based learning that requires students to complete a project in order to demonstrate their competency on a particular topic. This helps students to think out of the box and understand the practical application of concepts of a subject. If the students fail to demonstrate their competency and fall short in their projects, then the end goal is revised and student continues to learn until they have mastered all the competencies.  It focuses on mastering a topic rather than abstract learning, allowing students to set the pace of their learning. This makes competency-based learning a new pioneer in online personalized learning.


  • Social Media Learning: Understanding the influence of social media on student community, Social Media Learning is an emerging branch of online education that taps the fun, addictive potential of social media.  From creating Facebook groups for online discussion of subject topics to using blogging tools for submitting assignments, Social Media Learning is catching up in popularity. Professors in many universities are sharing their instructional videos in Facebook and YouTube and are facilitating an online flipped classroom where students share their understanding of the topic, and engage in discussion through video live streaming sessions. Coupled with synchronous or asynchronous instruction, Social Media Learning can be the next big thing in e-learning industry.

With the advent of these useful e-learning trends, and hopefully many more to come in next few years, I can positively say that online learning is here to stay!

  • Ethan is a dedicated private ESL teacher who also works as an online tutor at various education portals. Apart from his passion for teaching, Ethan loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Ethan on FacebookTwitter and check out his blog on WordPress.

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