As we move on to the future of online learning in education, it is important to keep in mind the communication and sociological aspects of the phenomenon. In fact, I don’t really see how we can study online learning without intricately tying in theory and findings from these fields. At the backbone of any online course is communication, whether it’s “course-designer/student,” “instructor/student,” “web content/student” or “student/student.” It is fundamentally necessary to treat the online learning experience as a set of interrelated communicative interactions. Without good communication in online courses from all of these angles, we just have bad educational websites! Similarly, how we communicate and interpret what is communicated to us can often be influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. What we experience in our lives can be shaped by many social forces and factors.
We’re past the point of asking whether online learning is a serious option for education. It certainly is, and will only become more important in the educational landscape in the years to come. Some of the biggest challenges at the moment with online learning is figuring out the best ways to retain learners from all backgrounds, and set them up to achieve learning goals within the digital learning environments. Perhaps making deeper connections between those learning goals and the experience of the learners (leveraging concepts in sociology), and how the learners communicate and interpret communication (leveraging concepts in communication studies) will be a significant contribution to overcoming those challenges.