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The What, Why, and How of Online Learning: A Myth-Busting Primer

In March 2020, when COVID-19 emptied quads and cleared out dormitories throughout the country, even the most reluctant students and educators needed to pivot into the era of online learning. Despite the fact that when the pandemic hit, thirty-five percent of on-campus college students had already taken two or more classes online, long-held questions and assumptions about the legitimacy and quality of online learning remain.

For nearly fifteen years, educators at Bay Path have been developing and applying alternative schedules and formats to expand access to college courses, faculty, and students. So, we’re able to draw upon a toolbox of technologies and supports created specifically for the online learner, earning national recognition for the support we were able to provide.

For those who’ve been out of virtual or campus-based classroom for some time, it’s time to take another look at where online learning is today, and where it’s going.

Myth #1: Zoom is a poor substitute for an actual classroom.

Despite the experiences of frustrated parents helping young children Zoom through elementary school, online learning is not based on merely transferring the traditional classroom to the virtual space, and Zoom is just one tool in an increasingly stocked toolbox of educational technology resources.

A core concept propelling the innovation of online education and the creation of new learning resources is Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which looks at cognitive sciences and examines various ways people learn in order to develop a broader framework of learning environments, spaces, and experiences.

UDL categorizes learning into visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities, allowing students to select from and adopt a variety of approaches based on their own preferences. So, if classroom learning is still a preferred experience, a professor can post lectures and lead discussions via Zoom, but also, students can tap into a host of additional materials, simulations, and projects that allow them to engage more deeply with their coursework in a more personalized way, going beyond what a classroom can provide.

Myth #2: An online degree isn’t valued at the same level as a traditional degree.

When a student obtains her bachelor’s degree through The American Women’s College, she receives a diploma from Bay Path University. The curriculum, standards, and expectations of our online programs are equivalent to those we offer on campus. There is a rigorous and in-depth process and evaluation that all institutions must go through in order to receive accreditation. Both Bay Path University and The American Women’s College are accredited by the same organization, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

Myth #3: Online learning isn’t for serious students.

The average age of online college students is 32, and eighty-four percent are employed. Only five percent are first-time college students. Balancing schoolwork with adult responsibilities requires time management skills and a level of commitment that only the most serious and focused students can manage. The faculty of our online program undergo a comprehensive onboarding process, followed up with consistent training and skills development to ensure they are not only bringing subject matter expertise to their classes but also, a mastery of technology and pedagogy that enables them to promote learning, community, and collaboration in a virtual environment.

Myth #4: You miss out on social interaction going to college online.

The real, measurable results of a support system are intrinsic to the women’s college experience at Bay Path, both on-campus and online. Online students go through an on-boarding orientation process and are matched with peer mentors to boost connections. In developing the virtual learning environment, the University prioritizes relationship building, and all courses promote a great deal of discussion, resulting in a culture in which student groups such as the recently formed Society for Culture Awareness and Diversity, an ambassador program organized by women of color, can launch.

Through Facebook, online students not only participate in, but oversee and administer a social platform for engagement. Even before the pandemic, online education was making college more accessible to more students. But at this point, students and educators at every level of education are learning new lessons about ways to learn and teaching us what’s possible if we’re willing to let go of certain traditions and embrace the inevitability of new ones.