Online Education: Where Are We Today?

Online education may seem like a somewhat relatively new concept especially considering that mainstream Internet has been around for less than 20 years. The surprising thing is that it has actually been around for decades. It was created in 1959 by David Alpert and Don Bitzer. They had set up a classroom with a small number of computers equipped with over 15,000 hours of lessons on various topics. It wasn’t until 1976, where Open University set up the first online course for academic credits that post-secondary institutions began to slowly implement these courses into their own curriculum. (Lepi) Fast forward nearly four decades and online education has grown into an industry on its own. It has gone past the traditional notion of teachers posting long videos of lectures and a list of readings to do in lieu of tete-a-tete with a professor; it has now evolved into an industry where anyone with a computer and internet service can access hundreds of different courses, free or for a fee. Prior education no longer applies to sites although they will warn you if you need prior knowledge of a particular type of topic. 

There is a countless number of websites offering free or paid courses online. Many are topic specific such as coding or anything to do with science or technology while others boast topics about pretty much anything and everything. Here is a list of some of the most popular sites out there right now.

Coursera is probably the most popular and most known site out there at the moment. Co-founder Daphne Koller initially created this as an open network for Stanford students to sign up for several online courses for free and the response was overwhelming. This was back in 2007 and Daphne saw an opportunity to expand on this idea. She wanted to teach people around the who normally would not have access to the types of courses that Coursera offers especially those from top Ivy league schools (they offer courses from Yale and Stanford to name a few). (Severance 9) 

Udacity and CodeAcademy are more for those individuals who are interested in learning about technology, web development, and specifically coding. People normally spend thousands of dollars learning how to code by taking courses at school or sometimes even hiring a professional to teach them the basics. These sites have removed all of that and packaged it into an easy to learn format that is easy to follow. “The gamified aspects of the site make it kind of addictive and far too much fun for something educational.” (Gorman)

Back when online education started to creep into traditional courses, those students who took these courses were forced to come to a classroom and use one of their computers. Now due to the technology that is readily available, students and professors alike are able to learn and help teach through various outlets. TEDEd and Udemy are prime examples of websites utilizing these outlets to the fullest extent. Udemy allows students to take courses using their PCs, laptops, tablets, and even their phones. This allows users to learn wherever and whenever best suits them. They could even learn on their commute to and from work if they pleased. TEDEd uploads videos of professors, professionals, students, entrepreneurs, etc who discusses everything and anything. These videos are not only found on their website, but also on YouTube which people can share using social media. 

For some time, many traditionalists worried about the impact that online education would have especially when online courses would be considered equivalent to regular classroom courses. They believed that it is not a fair comparison and that there should be two different sets of accreditation. “… questions about the soundness of its pedagogy… concerns about accreditation, which at present applies standards for traditional courses to online courses rather than establishing standards specific to computer-mediated environments.” (Busch and Hostetter 1). That may be the case for some, but many (students and professors alike) believe that this mode of education helps in a multitude of ways. People with busy schedules are able to learn at their own pace during their own time. Those who are unable to afford post-secondary education now have access to free education. Online education tends to be a lot more interactive than say in a lecture hall or tutorial. Students are able to communicate amongst one another through forums. Professors are able to directly answer questions through video or in a post. Studies have been conducted to decide how best to run these courses and how they can be successful without having to be in the confines of a classroom. Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles was conducted through a study to see how best to run online courses. “The seven principles are contact between students and faculty, cooperation among students, active learning, prompt feedback, time on task, high expectations, and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning.” (Busch and Hostetter 1)

There will always be those who would prefer the traditional route (in classroom lectures) and others who go for more modern route; it is not to say that one is better than the other. Both have their pros and cons. While the traditional route has been in place for centuries if not millennia allowing them to go through the cycle of trial and error, it is now time for online education to through its hardships until it has found how to best educate millions who are seeking education through this venue.


Busch, Monique and Hostetter, Carol. “Measuring Up Online: The Relationship Between Social Presence and Student Learning Satisfaction.” Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 6.2 (2006): 1-12. Print.

Gorman, Linda. “Top 5 Sites for Online Learning.” (2013)

Lepi, Katie. “Who Actually Started Online Education?” Edudemic (2012).

Severance, Charles. “Teaching the World: Daphne Koller and Coursera.” IEEE Computer (2012): 8-9. Print



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