Going the Distance in Online Learning

Over the past three decades most of us can recall sweeping technological changes that had a major impact on our lives: the Internet; email; eBooks; and smartphones. With these shifts, higher education has been part of a powerful transformation, also impacting lives.

For those who earned degrees before the new millennium, a college experience was limited to the lecture halls and labs of a campus. Today, the physical classroom is no longer the sole center of learning. As developments in educational technology progress, the ways in which Sam Houston State University delivers and receives information continually evolve as well. To accommodate the ever-changing needs of 21st century students, Sam Houston’s educational offerings have moved from the traditional classroom experience to one which incorporates flexible options.

Online education is no longer a trend, it is mainstream. Moreover, planning for the future of online education is not only exciting, but necessary as we reshape the learning experience. What does this mean for today’s college student? Knowledge can be obtained from almost anywhere. 

The new traditional student is nontraditional. The path to degree completion is no longer linear. Students can be juggling several jobs or trying to balance family commitments. They may be an active member of the military or fulfilling a passion. The thread that ties each experience together is the drive to learn. 

While the first online courses can be traced to the mid ’90s, Sam Houston State University has been at the forefront of understanding the strategies for successful online teaching in addition to the technology necessary to support it. As early as 2000, SHSU has embraced the concept of blended courses (merging classroom learning with online learning) and provided the infrastructure to allow faculty to make this transition as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Although there were only a few pioneers, including SHSU, in the early days of distance learning that were willing to take on it’s challenges, it is estimated today that as many as 6.4 million students are enrolled in online classes annually. That number is expected to grow as technology continues to advance. What started as distance learning courses in a few departments has now expanded to online offerings across SHSU’s seven colleges.

While embracing its legacy, Sam Houston State strives to meet the needs of all students, both traditional and online. The university offers 43 fully online degree programs along with a number of certificates, all of which are taught by on-campus professors. Graduate programs are also a key part of the university’s online education offerings—29 master’s degrees and two doctoral degree programs are presently available, including popular choices like master’s degrees in business administration, digital forensics, criminal justice, information assurance and security, and others. Current professionals can build on their knowledge and bolster their careers with these high-quality online graduate degree programs.

In 2018, for the second year in a row, SHSU was ranked No. 1 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report, for its online graduate degrees in criminal justice. This sign of excellence is the result of implementing best practices to improve online learning outcomes.

This year, SHSU Online has been working to expand undergraduate online enrollment through a new awareness initiative in reaching potential students. Several undergraduate degrees have been identified as new online programs of focus for adult learners interested in completing degrees they started years ago. Those programs include:

  • Homeland Security Studies: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science
  • General Business Administration: Bachelor of Business Administration
  • Health Care Administration: Bachelor of Science
  • Liberal Studies: Bachelor of Science 

Presently, SHSU has 3,500 students taking 100 percent of their courses online, and more than 11,400 students are taking one or more courses online. Currently, 53 percent of the university’s student body is taking at least one online course.

While some may still be doubtful that a quality education can be obtained online, SHSU has proven otherwise, embracing the transformative potential of online teaching, and revolutionizing higher education learning.

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