Some of the first online schools date back to 1997, and since then, the power of online school has made itself known. These days, many community colleges, universities, and private instructions offer online learning opportunities – and even the public K-12 system is jumping on board. About 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in fall 2014 – up 3.9 percent from the previous fall. With an expected 3.5 million students working toward their degree online in 2016 and with projected increases of up to 5 million by 2020, online education is one of the largest and fastest growing segments of higher education.

And the virtual classroom isn’t just for students looking to squeeze in another class alongside their traditional studies or to get a fully online degree – there are now Open Courseware programs offered by top universities around the world that allow anyone to “sit-in” on high-quality courses just for their own personal learning. MIT’s Open Courseware program averages 1 million visits every single month – that’s a lot of free education for lifelong learners who aren’t interested in a degree but just in knowing more.

The prolific growth of online schools in the last 15 years makes it clear that the online teaching environment has the power to transform education. Since 1985, college tuition has increased 550%. Even stable middle income families feel priced out of the higher education market – especially students who are interested in getting their education from a private university. This cost increase simply isn’t a sustainable way for society to continue churning out highly educated professionals into the workforce.

Some of the benefits of online school that experts are touting include:

  1. Lower Operating Costs: Just like an online business is less expensive to run than an equivalent brick and mortar, online schools are less costly to operate than the traditional classroom. Everything from the cost of electricity to extensive facilities such as fancy gyms and libraries will be done away with in an online education environment.
  2. Innovation: Teachers and professors who are teaching online often say the technology helps them get more innovative with their teaching methods. The time saved traveling to and from the classroom and in set-up can be poured into preparing for a riveting online class.
  3. Reach: Online schooling will send education down the wire to rural communities, cities, and foreign countries. Students will no longer have to move or give up their job in order to get education, the education will come to them.

Online education has been likened to the next Dot Com bubble – even in this time of recovery from a recent recession. Many start-ups are exploring this field with new technology, ideas, and clever ways of expanding the online education marketplace.

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