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If you want to continue your post-secondary education, but don’t havetime for the classroom, online/distance learning could be yoursalvation.

If you want to continue your post-secondary education, but don’t have time for the classroom, online/distance learning could be your salvation.

Laurel Smith, virtual programs administrator at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says students with children or jobs are drawn by the flexible schedule.

“They have a lot of freedom in the style of learning and can learn in a way that best suits their needs,” she says.

Mount Royal gets students straight out of high school and students returning after decades in the workforce.

Most students take online courses in their own communities, showing location is less important than convenient times.

Derek Taye at Halifax’s Dalhousie University says courses are delivered via a “blended learning” model mixing offline with online.

In a 14-week course, there would be three of four concentrated days in an actual classroom in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary or Vancouver.

Online parts include real-time lectures via video, discussion forums and live classes.

Students use live streaming to ask questions other students and professors can hear and respond to, along with IM chat and blog-style discussions.

The key is to make the experience invisible.

“(Students) aren’t here to figure out computers, they’re here to learn,” Taye says.

Hot courses

• The most popular online courses in Halifax tend to be ones that are basic prerequisites to further offline study, such as math.

• In Toronto, business courses like accounting and project management rule the online world.

• Ottawa universities have popular online courses in food microbiology and food quality and safety.

• In Calgary, tourism-related courses like event management do well while Edmonton offers many information technology programs.

• In Vancouver, creative classes such as writing are hot.

Keeping it cutting edge

Derek Taye says while Dalhousie University keeps its online learning at the cutting edge of technology, there needs to be a balance with what professors and students are technically capable of doing.

As “digital natives” move through the system, they will push deeper into the online possibilities.

Online classroom programs such as Wimba, Elluminate or WebEx and Flash bring lessons alive, while Adobe e-learning suites focus on demonstrating computer concepts. Professors can use tablet PCs to write out solutions to problems live online with a virtual chalk board.

Some classes are synchronous, or in real time, while others are asynchronous, or on the student’s time.

 
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