While the quality of Internet phone calls is still not as good as that of dial-up long-distance telephone, more and more users are taking advantage of Internet telephony because it offers free phone calls (McReal and Elliott, 2002). Internet telephony is straightforward and simple, requiring only an Internet hookup, headphones or speakers, and a microphone.
For online students, Internet telephony offers an opportunity for students to speak to others in their classroom, almost anywhere in the world. In addition, teacher and student communication can be improved by the opportunity to speak to one another to discuss any learning challenges or questions.
Hand-held and wireless technologies are perhaps one of the greatest developments when it comes to online learning (McReal and Elliott, 2002). According to Fortune magazine, computers will eventually be outsold by phones and organizers that have all the capabilities of a computer and the wireless connections to back them up. Even today, many people are choosing wireless devices over desktop and even laptop computers, as Internet access tools, as well as for common computing applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets. More complex hand-held devices have multimedia capabilities, wired or wireless Internet access, and the ability to send and receive data and text. With infrared networking, these hand-held computer devices provide students and teachers with unprecedented flexibility.
As more and more students have access to inexpensive high bandwidth and are able to purchase wireless devices that incorporate all the features of a computer, the educational possibilities will continue to increase (McReal and Elliott, 2002). As a result, paper-based teaching and learning will become unnecessary. In addition, this technology has the potential to eliminate the chances of losing homework, missing tests, and having to buy expensive textbooks.
One of the most widely discussed Internet events in recent years has been the controversy about peer-to-peer, or file-sharing, applications (McReal and Elliott, 2002). Peer-to-peer applications enable users, regardless of location or connection speed, to share all types of files with a huge population of Internet users. Unlike the currently predominant client-to-server model, where users obtain information from a centralized server, the peer-to-peer model allows members to transfer files directly between users, without having to access a centralized server.
According to McReal and Elliott (2002): "It is easy to make connections between learning objects, intelligent educational systems, and the peer-to-peer model. Research and other materials could easily be offered online and "harvested" by a well-designed P2P program, offering the student or teacher a wealth of knowledge that might not otherwise be available. Upcoming peer-to-peer educational applications include edutella and eduSplash, products that support the exchange of learning objects or units of learning." recent Eduventures report revealed that the online distance-learning market is growing in excess of 40% annually, with approximately 350,000 students generating $1.75 billion in tuition revenues for postsecondary institutions (Gallagher, 2002). Innovations in technology, along with globalization, are quickly changing the face of both work and the workforce; the demand for highly skilled and educated workers is growing. For these reasons, working adults are enrolling in education programs that can provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to compete for better jobs.
Working adult students tend to be more problem-centered and interested in immediately applying what they learn (O'Malley and McCraw, 2004). They value and want to share their own life experiences and learn from the experiences of fellow students. In today's learning environment, adult students are motivated to compete successfully in an evolving job market.
High demand is driving growth in the development of online classes for working adults. But it is not just the traditional providers of adult education (i.e. colleges and universities) that are creating these programs (O'Malley and McCraw, 2004). Corporate universities, who have a tendency to distrust the ability of academic institutions to provide the applied skills they want for their employees, are offering online programs for employees. This makes online learning a potentially lucrative and very competitive market. Therefore, the focus must continue to be improved teaching and learning achieved through innovation and technology.
In conclusion, the Internet holds a great deal of potential for online learning (McReal and Elliott, 2002). Teachers, students, and parents all stand to benefit from the endless possibly of online learning. For teachers, emerging technologies provide opportunities to go beyond simply posting class notes and lecture materials online. New technologies mean they can create online quizzing systems and allow learners to participate in highly interactive forums and discussions. For students and parents, emerging technologies stand to increase the convenience and decrease the cost of getting an education. And as new technologies emerge, these opportunities will continue to increase, benefiting students in ways we cannot imagine.
Duderstadt, James J. 1997. "The Future of the University in an Age of Knowledge," Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 1 (August) pp. 78-88.
Gallagher, S. (2002, September). Distance learning at the tipping point: Critical success factors to growing fully online distance-learning programs. Boston: Eduventures, Inc.
Kilmurray, James. (October, 2003). e-Learning: It's More Than Automation. The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/).