In the last two decades, few things have changed our lives more than the Internet and mobile technology. Whether in classrooms, boardrooms or living rooms, the advent of our mobile and online existence has transformed how we work, how we learn and how we all interact with one another.

As unimaginable as a life without telephones or televisions would have been to generations raised in the latter half of the 20th Century, so too life without constant connectivity is unfathomable to the new generation of students emerging from high schools and colleges across our country and our world.

Community colleges are successfully responding to the new challenges and opportunities presented by our new connected lifestyle. Since the late 1990s, when Waubonsee Community College and other institutions first offered online learning opportunities – “distance learning” we called it then – the course offerings and the numbers of students participating have grown explosively.

According to a 2013 report from the Babson Survey Research Group, an organization tracking online education trends since 2003, more than 7 million students now take at least one online course annually. While the growth in those numbers has slowed in recent years, the numbers of students taking online courses continues to increase, growing by more than 6 percent in 2013, the Babson report said.

Each year at Waubonsee, about 4,000 students, or about 20 percent of our student population, now participate in at least one of our approximately 200 online courses, taking advantage of the opportunity to learn wherever they may be, and largely on their own schedules.

Online learners include Waubonsee students who are also taking traditional face-to-face courses. Other students may be enrolled at four-year colleges and universities who will then transfer credits to more conveniently complete their degree. In addition, students in more distant parts of the Chicago region or even around the world take advantage of this convenient learning option.

Some use the online learning opportunities to earn a full degree. A student who attended Waubonsee for a time, but returned to his native South Africa, is among them. He is completing his associate degree on the other side of the globe, to further his goal of returning to the U.S. to earn a bachelor’s degree.

However, as online learning continues to evolve, another significant impact is the blending between what we now call the “traditional classroom” and the online environment.

More than three-quarters of all classes at Waubonsee include some kind of online learning component. We expect this blended learning to continue to grow as more of the college’s face-to-face classes incorporate online learning elements.

Technology continues to evolve how and with whom we connect to create, learn, work, and live. Educators have accepted the challenge to not only provide education when and where students want to learn but to help students be prepared for the digitally-connected, global workplace. Through new and innovative ways of teaching, students move beyond social connectedness to achieve digital literacy.