The expanded use of computer and internet technology in the delivery of secondary and post-secondary eduction courses and classes is the direct result of the increased access to technology in American homes. The United States Census Bureau (2009) reports that 77.2 percent of U.S. households own one or more computers and the 74.1 percent of U.S. households have internet access.
An article in the The American Journal of Business Education (2010) reports that this expanded use of computer and multimedia technology, such as CD-ROMs, email, Instant Messaging (IM) applications, and collaborative whiteboards, in the home is also responsible for the increased use of technology for the delivery of post-secondary education classes ( Gibson, Harris, & Colaric, 2008, p. 355).
This increased use of technology is also responsible for the increased enrollment of non-traditional students in post-secondary institutions and for the improvement of the learning process and the education experience for those non-traditional students.
Characteristics of Non-Traditional Students
According to the The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) “there is no precise definition for non-traditional student” (2009, p. 3). The NCES report notes that the elements most to common to various institutions’ definition of non-traditional student are part-time enrollment status and student age. The NCES’s definition of a “non-traditional student” is any student who meets any one of the following criteria:
- Does not have a high school diploma (has a GED or other high school completion certificate or dropped out of high school);
- Is considered financially independent for financial aid classification;
- Has dependents other than a spouse, (usually children);
- Is a single parent, (either not married or married but separated), and has dependents;
- Is enrolled part-time for at least part of the academic year.
- For the purposes of this paper the less restrictive NCES definition is used to define “non-traditional student” (2009, p. 1).
Institutional concerns for technology used by non-tradition students
The widespread adaption of new technologies, including increased availability of broadband internet connections, have increased the demand for online education classes. The number of public and private institutions offering online education has increased drastically to meet this increased need (NCES, 2009, p. 6).
For the purposes of this paper “online education” is defined as the use of the internet and multimedia technologies to exchange ideas and provide educational access to people across a wide geographical area. Also within the scope of this paper “internet-based education, web-based education, virtual education and ‘education via computer'” are interchangeable with the term “online education.”
This has resulted in the requirement for these institutions to take into consideration an assessment of the technologies available for use by their online faculty and students into instructional program planning and budgeting. The required technical infrastructure is already in place and widely available at most colleges and universities, no special or major changes are required by the institutions to accommodate online education ( Angiello, 2010, p. 57-58) .
A major point of concern for most institutions is the quality of the technology available to non-traditional students to access the school’s infrastructure. Most non-traditional students do not have the most current technology on the market. In fact this author would venture to say that these students are the most likely to be behind the technology curve due to the combination of cultural and economic factors. They do not the compulsion to spend money on newer technology, when their current equipment meets their requirements.
The term “Web 2.0” is commonly associated with web applications that “facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaborative interaction on the internet” ( Natarajan, 2006, p. 250 ). The fact that Web 2.0 applications are not hardware dependent, many Web 2.0 applications are open source and are offered free to members of the educational community making them ideal for use by non-traditional students.
Many institutions use Web 2.0 applications as a means to address technology issues common to non-traditional students. The use of these applications allow computer systems up to seven-years old to have full functionality with the current information technology infrastructure used by the majority of educational institutions.
A final technology issue of concern to educational institutions is the availability of adequate internet access to the non-traditional student. With 74.1 percent of U.S. households reporting internet access, at least at the narrow-band level; the ability of students to access the internet for educational purposes is not at issue, except in some rural communities ( Census Bureau, 2009 ).
The role of Online Instruction in Post-Secondary Education
Natarajan notes that together the internet and World Wide Web (WWW) provide educators “a new medium” to deliver teaching and instructional materials; as well as the means for the student community to access educational and research material outside the scope of their parent institution ( 2006, p. 249 ). The result being that online instruction is no longer considered a shift away from the traditional role of university teaching, but is now considered an important element in advancing the instructional mission of post-secondary educational institutions.
The increased availability of online instruction is responsible for the increased enrollment of non-traditional students in degree granting programs. Online instruction allows colleges and universities to “offer instructional programs that provide the convenience and flexibility” ( Angiello, 2010, p. 57) required by non-tradition students in order to attend and participate in post-secondary degree granting programs.
A recent study ( Angiello, 2010) comparing online educational methods to traditional classroom methods found that online education is rapidly becoming the delivery method of choice for employers and for-profit institutions looking to deliver professional education and career development content to individuals at multiple sites on a cost effective basis ( p. 58-59 ).
The Virtual Learning Environment (the online campus)
The online campus is the place where technology and instruction combine to create the educational environment for the non-traditional student.
The virtual classroom is the location (or portal) where students acquire knowledge by the means of asynchronous instruction, that is by watching videos, assigned textbook readings etc. The subsequent discussions of case studies, problems, the solving of common exercises, and question review are used to help gain the full understanding of the topic being studied. These discussions can be my means for real-time exchanges, via chat rooms, or postings on discussion boards ( Gibson, Harris, & Colaric, 2008).
Other electronic media such as voice mail, e-mail, etc. are also employed for direct and indirect communication between instructors and class members. Classwork and homework assignment are normally submitted electronically, by either e-mail attachment or an upload to the virtual classroom. When assistance is needed classmates, lecturers, or tutors are available; the same as any other university ( p. 356-357) . Here the difference is that all instructional interaction is by means of electronic media.
The online campus is also the place that all assessment activities take place. In the same manner that all classroom instruction is asynchronous so is all assessment activities. Depending on the preferences of the course professor assessments (exams) may be open-book, self-proctored or fully proctored by a third-party.
Advances in multimedia and internet technology have provided non-traditional students with access to post-secondary educational opportunities that were unheard of a decade ago. The delivery of post-secondary education courses by means of the internet and other multimedia technologies has allowed the percentage of the non-traditional college students to increase greatly.
In addition to allowing the number of non-tradition students attending post-secondary institutions to grow; this increased use of technology has increased the ability of the non-traditional students to compete in today’s highly competitive employment marketplace.
Angiello, R.. (2010, October). Study Looks at Online Learning vs. Traditional Instruction. The Education Digest, 76(2), 56-59.
Gibson, S., Harris, M., & Colaric, S.. (2008). Technology Acceptance in an Academic Context: Faculty Acceptance of Online Education. Journal of Education for Business, 83(6), 355-359.
Lewis, G. (2010). I Would Have Had More Success If… : Student Reflections On Their Performance In Online And Blended Courses. American Journal of Business Education, 3(11), 13-21.
Natarajan, M. M. (2006). Use of Online Technology for Multimedia Education. Information Services & Use, 26(3), 249-256.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). Special Analysis 2002: Non-Traditional Undergraduates.
United State Census Bureau. (2009). Internet Use in the United States: October 2009.