Stuart Dixon, a director of the Euro MBA distance learning MBA program, has noted, “One could even argue that the online courses now being offered take education to a higher level: distance learning allows students to study whilst working (which means new knowledge can be immediately applied) as well as allowing them to study with people from all over the world” (“Online Learning 2011”). He emphasizes the fact that nowadays distant learning became an essential part of the society and it should have the best possible quality.
Dr. David A. Armstrong, Doctorof Education, also highlights that e-learning is popular among learners. With his study on the undergraduate students’ feelings and thoughts about on-line courses, the author proves, that between 2002 and 2007 the number of e-learners jumped from 1,602,970 to 3,938,111 (Armstrong 222). Every year this number is not falling, on the contrary, it is rising.
The popularity of online institutions may be explained by the fact that people live in the 21st century, which is a period of scientific-technical development, self-actualization, and new way of thinking. People of the new age strive for success, improvement of their knowledge, and development of the particular attributes and skills in all spheres of life. It also concerns the educational sphere. The process of globalization makes students prefer e-learning to traditional learning. Such kind of learning should be provided with effective technology and service in order to gain popularity among the learners. That is why, the question concerning the quality of online classes always arises interest. The higher the quality, the bigger the percentage of the students’ admission to the online universities is.
Di Xu, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Community College Research Center within Columbia University’s Teachers College, argues that there are three strategies to improve online classes including stronger connection between students and instructors, better development of online learning skills, and greater attention paid to creation of high-quality online programming. According to the author, the most important learning skills of e-learning include technological skills, self-directed learning and time management.It requires a lot of students’ efforts and patience. The second strategy is called interaction between learners and teacher. The third one, technological support, is of no less importance. Technology is the basis for distant learning, because it establishes connection between the learners and teachers. Actually, it provides learners with an opportunity to study and teachers with an opportunity to teach and assess student’s knowledge.
A view that supports Xu concerns the importance of interaction between teachers and students, is articulated by Dr. David A. Armstrong, who contends that “Tools used for communicating or conducting research were not as important as the communication itself. Perceptions of value for any tools used depended not on the tool but on the speed and consistency of communications” (225). The author makes it clear that technology implementation and the use of tools depend, for the most part, on communication. During the research into the effectiveness of online teaching, Armstrong managed to discover the most significant finding – students consider communication as the best means of achieving successful results during e-learning. However, the level of quality of online communication, according to the students, which took part in the observation, is poor and this thing can be related to one of the major drawbacks of e-learning. That is why this point leaves much to be desired in future.
A view that supports Xu’s one concerning the importance of technology in e-learning, is articulated by Robert W. Mendenhall, the president of Western Governors University, who points out, “Technology allows us to fundamentally change the model to individualize learning, and in so doing improve learning and reduce costs” (“How Technology Can Improve Online Learning - and Learning in General”). Technology will give an opportunity to transform the traditional learning into a modernized form of learning – distant learning. Mendenhall states, that educational process may be improved with a number of factors, one of which is technology, because the scientific-technological progress goes forward and it provides students with such benefits as new electronic sources, important educational multi-media as well as ability to communicate via different computer programs.
Therefore, distant learning plays an important role in the lives of the online learners. The popularity of online institutions, for the most part, depends on the quality of e-learning, which should be improved as soon as possible. Many scholars, teachers, psychologists and other educators study the issue of online learning quality. For example, the views of Di Xu, Dr. David A. Armstrong and Stuart Dixon are similar and they agree in number of points including communication as one of the best means of achieving successful results during e-learning, technology and some others. Di Xu, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Columbia University’s Teachers College, adds also such factor as development of online learning skills. However, the most important means of the improvement of online classes is technology, which will ensure successful results in distant learning.