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The virtual classroom

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August 20th, 2013
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It’s that time of year again. Summer is over, and children are packing their book bags and boarding the bus to go back to school. If this time has you thinking about continuing your own education, you’re in good company. Over half a million seniors are enrolled in traditional universities, while many more participate in non-credit adult education courses.

Massive open online courses

The Internet is making going back to school easier for seniors. Without the need to visit traditional institutions, prospective students are no longer limited to courses offered in their neighborhood. MOOCs, or “massive open online courses,” are an increasingly popular way to gain access to courses offered by some of the country’s most prestigious universities. Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and MIT are just a few institutions that offer MOOCs in subjects ranging from Shakespeare to computer science. MOOCs are free of charge but generally offer no actual credits toward a degree.

E-learning platforms

MOOCs require a team of technical professionals to be successful. These convenient courses would not be available without videographers, instructional designers, IT specialists, and platform specialists. Edx is an open-source software platform developed by MIT in 2012; universities offering these open courses partner with Edx. This online platform makes it possible to access your course’s lectures, homework assignments, tutorials, and other class materials on a weekly basis without having to trudge to a campus.

But if getting out to a traditional university does sound appealing to you, you may find today’s instructors applying new technology services to their curriculum, right in the classroom. For example, Blackboard Inc. is a privately held company that can provide higher learning institutions with an application designed for course management and discussion. A class can be conducted solely on Blackboard, or it can be used to facilitate group discussions or just be a way to post and analyze class grades.

Virtual classrooms

There have been numerous technological advances in the past ten years that make e-learning a viable option for students of all ages. Podcasts are audio files that can be subscribed to and streamed on the Web. Apple offers a variety of educational podcasts for free on iTunes. Webcams are also an important aspect of virtual classrooms. Webcams allow teachers to broadcast lectures to students hundreds of miles away. It also makes having guest speakers feasible for some universities. Another recent trend of e-learning is “screencasting.” Screencasting is essentially a movie file with audio narration; it can grab computer screen images and help create tutorials.

Thanks to advances in technology and the willingness of students to collaborate, it has never been easier to continue one’s education. Whether you’ve just developed an interest in English literature or you’re looking to change careers with a new degree, there’s a course waiting for you on your computer.

jessie.helene@erickson.com

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