The Effects of the Internet on Adult Education

Technology has impacted almost every aspect of our lives including adult and higher education.  When discussing the impacts of the Internet in education and training over the last Fifteen years, the influence of technological advancements and technology integration in education must be addressed as well.  Technology integration is a much debated topic in higher education.  According to Ann Kirschner, from Columbia University, technology in higher education “is facing a perfect storm of changing demographic, mounting costs, increased competition, and technological choices,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).  In this Era of Technology, many colleges and universities have transformed their traditional classrooms into high-tech classrooms with the use of the Internet as the foundation of the transformation.

Technology & Internet in the Classroom

Technology has been used in the classroom for years, while many colleges and other higher education facilities pride themselves in offering state of the art technology to their students as they compete to recruit the top students and professors in the country.  Fifteen years ago schools and classrooms included: chalkboards; bulky desktops with a dial-up modem or no modem at all; small computer labs that provided students and teachers limited access; basic instructional CD-Rom Software; painted fabric projection pull-down screens to display primarily overhead projector transparencies; VHS videotapes that many times required teachers to reserve a television and VCR cart; non-digital cameras; and paper-based journals.  In the Era of Technology, students in a college classroom can now be exposed to: interactive whiteboards and smartboards that can connect to computers to store all data written on the boards and then shared via the Internet; wireless laptops allowing teachers and students to access the Internet in the classroom; mobile laptop carts or tablets providing teachers and students an alternative to computer labs; online software and shareware with incredible graphics and interaction at an affordable cost and sometimes even free; LCD projectors with liquid-crystal display that can connect to a computer to show streaming videos and other multimedia; digital videos that can be uploaded from websites by teachers and students; MP3 and MP4 players that can store educational information in multimedia formats that are downloaded via the Internet; and web-based portfolios for teachers and students to create blogs, wikis, multimedia files, and photoshares with photos taken with digital cameras and camera phones.

Positive Impact of Technology and Internet in Education

The integration of technology has been an ongoing challenge for years but the rewards for technology integration are well worth the struggles.  As stated by Richard Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, “The digital age can enhance liberal education…if we make appropriate use of digital opportunities,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).  Many of the technological improvements have brought students and education closer with the use of the Internet.  The Internet can provide access to information, multimedia, communication, and interaction.  The key to technology effectiveness is proper integration of the technology so that it enhances or reinforces a lesson plan.  In a world that is dominated by technology, it is important for students to be introduced to various technological options and experience how they can be beneficial in both their class as well as real-world application.  Rev. Charles Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, identified that “educational technology not only puts all sorts of information at one’s fingertips, but can create an immediacy and interactivity that a lecture can rarely achieve,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005). Some of the greatest uses of the Internet for education includes: online discussion boards, streaming videos, student assessments, and classroom presentations.

Online discussion boards can provide a communication tool outside of class among students and teachers.  They provide an excellent platform for in-depth discussions with students who are too shy to speak-up in class, as well as the ability for well-thought-out and researched information, rather than the spontaneous ideas expressed in a class discussion.  In research completed by Kathleen Krentler and Laura Willis-Flurry, they found that college students who participated in an optional online discussion board 76% – 100% of the time earned a significantly higher course grade point average than all other students (Krentler, 2005).  Online discussion boards can go far beyond the standard chats, online discussions can also include interactive chats with software such as iLink that allows for sharing of software applications; and interactive software programs such as Google Docs that allows a group of students to work on the same document simultaneously via the Internet.  Online discussions are only one example of interaction and communication via the Internet.

Interaction and communication can also occur online through streaming videos.  Over the last fifteen years the creation and refinement of digital, Web-based video, also called streaming video or Webcast, enables educators to use video technologies in online courses or distance education without being limited by conventional constraints.  One of the most common complaints about distance education from students is the lack of human contact between students and instructors.  One method of incorporating the human element into a distance education course is through the use of streaming video (Nickerson, 2003).  Some of the most successful educational Webcasts include online lectures provided by National Geographic Live Events, NASA TV, Elluminate, and Exploratorium Webcasts.  In 1997, LaRose and Gregg researched the impact of Web-lectures and found that the Web-lectures were at least as efficient and effective as regular, classroom-based lectures.  Young and Asensio (2002) also discovered other student benefits when researching the impacts of streaming videos on education, such as: the ability for students to rewind and replay content as needed; reach greater audience numbers; accessibility of videos anytime; and more interaction with course content.  Streaming videos can be created for the incorporation of guest lectures into classes without traveling or scheduling issues, administering professional development programs accessible when needed, and recruiting students by capturing the essence of a program through video.  West Virginia University’s graduate nursing program is an example of an educational program that uses streaming video to recruit potential students by showcasing what is entailed in a typical class.  Although the following research was not performed in adult classes, the findings are still powerful.

Two independent evaluations by Cometrika have been completed on the UnitedStreaming service, and both studies indicated significant gains in student achievement as a result of using this streaming video.  The first evaluation took place in three school districts in rural Virginia in 2002, and significant gains were noted in third and eighth grade science and social studies scores.  The study used a random assignment design and involved a pretest, followed by a month of exposure to over 30 UnitedStreaming video clips pertinent to state standards, and then a post-test that measured the state standards that were covered in the video clips and instruction. A summary of the results showed that the experimental group’s improvement exceeded the control group’s improvement by over 12.6% points. The second evaluation was conducted in the Los Angeles Unified School District during 2004, and results indicated a significant improvement in student test scores in sixth and eighth grade mathematics. Approximately 2,500 middle school students in the district participated in the study. Each student was given a pretest to measure mastery of specific California state standards, and then a post-test at the end of the academic quarter to measure improvement. During the quarter, teachers in the experimental group used approximately 20 UnitedStreaming clips related to the state standards, while those in the control group received traditional instruction. The results of the study indicated that the experimental group outscored the control group by 3-5%, which was statistically significant (Discovery Education, 2006).

One of the biggest impacts the Internet has provided is online assessments.  Teachers can now assign online assessments to get instant monitoring of students’ academic progress.  These Web-based assessments are growing in popularity for several reasons including: instantaneous scoring and reporting; quick results available to teachers and administrators; and immediate feedback available to students when the assessment is designed as an ongoing instructional tool.

The most common use of the Internet for educational purposes is to create a classroom website for classroom content.  Teachers use the website to post assignments, important dates to remember, grades, and lecture presentations and notes for students to use at home as they continue to study outside of the classroom.  Google Earth, an example of a content enhancement, can help teachers bring abstract ideas like geographical locations to reality in the classroom via the Internet.  Students can use the website to post questions, and showcase work to a large audience; showcasing their work can provide motivation and pride in their school work.  Both teachers and students can use the website to build an online learning community that can enhance the learning.

Disadvantages of Technology and Internet in Education

Although technology and the Internet offer a variety of benefits, there are disadvantages that need to be addressed before determining if and what technology can enhance adult learning.  Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, noted that “just because the Internet gives scholars and students access to ‘our own virtual Libraries of Alexandria’ does not mean that education and research are improving,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).  In Krentler’s and Willis-Flurry’s research, they found that Internet usage had no significant effect on the students’ course grade point average (Krentler, 2005).  Some of the most common complaints with integrating the Internet into a lesson plan includes: the time it takes to prepare the lesson plan which involves identifying appropriate online references; another issue is the possession of updated technology to run the online software applications such as high-speed Internet connection and new computers.  The most popular complaint with technology is the lack of professional development supplied to teachers and staff to help successfully integrate new technology into already pre-established curriculum and lesson plans.  Stephan Ehrmann claims that “inadequate support for staff and program development has caused more waste and failure than any other issue associated with the use of technology,” (Ehrmann, 1996).  He goes on to state that “hardware, software, and related direct operating costs can devour technology budgets leaving almost nothing for staff and program development,” (Ehrmann, 1996).  Technology can also provide distractions as noted by a student at the University of Florida, Cliff Stephens, who confessed he can be tempted by computer games such as Solitaire when he should be studying, (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).


Technology and the Internet has become a fact of life in and out of the classroom.  They have both transformed over the last fifteen years creating new opportunities in education.  Distance learning was once simply a few classes offered over the college television station or radio station, has now transformed into full online universities.  Bulky desktop computers with dial-up Internet connectivity and limited software applications have transformed into handheld devices with portable high-speed Internet connectivity and sophisticated software applications.  These advancements in technology have created a huge transformation in the Internet and how the Internet can be used for education.  Online Discussion boards, online classroom content, streaming videos, and Web-based assessments have been just a few of the powerful ways that the Internet has impacted education, especially adult education in colleges and universities over the last ten years.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000


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