Visual Arts Education Gets Virtual

June 18, 2001

Art Students Augment Education Through New Online Classes in Design and Digital Arts

Business school students have been studying online for years, but students studying the visual and digital arts are now having their chance to take advantage of the flexibility and power of e-learning.

Students at The Art Institutes International at San Francisco are part of a new wave of visual arts students augmenting their on-ground studies in art and graphic design with online courses related to their degrees.

This spring, the career-focused art school began offering its students the chance to take a variety of courses online. Student response to the online courses exceeded the schools expectations, with nearly 10 percent of the total student population signing up for the courses. The most popular online courses are art history, image manipulation, color theory and psychology.

Nearly 325 students are currently enrolled at The Art Institutes International at San Francisco, which offers two- and four-year degree programs in Graphic Design, Media Arts & Animation, Multimedia & Web Design and Fashion Design.

These courses really appeal to students who are looking for a more flexible education environment that fits their personal needs, said Caren Meghreblian, Ph.D., Dean of Education. Its an exciting new program that gives our students even more options in completing their education.

Students take the online courses through the schools affiliation with The Art Institute Online, a distance-learning division of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh that offers Internet-delivered education in art and design. The Art Institutes International at San Francisco and The Art Institute of Pittsburgh are part of The Art Institutes, a system of 23 educational institutions located nationwide.

According to school officials, the online classes appeal to students who are highly motivated and take responsibility for their own learning. The more passionate they are about a particular subject, the more theyll enjoy the online class experience. Students normally spend six weeks on material that would take 11 weeks to complete in a traditional classroom setting. Students log on to read class assignments, submit their work and discuss class topics through message boards and online chats with instructors and classmates. Using an online messaging system, instructors communicate with their students at least once a day.

In a virtual-classroom setting, the learning process is anything but passive. Students are exposed to one anothers work and bring their own personal experiences into the class.

Since art students are highly visual learners, the courses use lots of visuals and audio clips to accommodate alternative learning styles and reinforce visual and text instruction. In a design class, students learn to manipulate graphics as well as see them.

The online courses use technology such as Macromedia Flash to bring visual excitement to the class. For example, in an art history course, Flash animations demonstrate the different styles and design elements that go into a painting. These dynamic animations provide a reference point for the student and dont require verbal explanations from the teacher.

During a research and test period for The Art Institute Online, the school found that online faculty members develop closer relationships with students and student workloads are more intense. The online courses also have the same course and exit competencies as the on-ground versions, so students learn as much or more about the course topic.

Most of the faculty who teach online courses are the same faculty who teach traditional on-ground courses at The Art Institutes. Instructors are specially trained to teach in the online environment.

These accelerated courses are conducive to intense learning, said Lisa Kaplan, an art instructor who lives in Middletown, Calif., and teaches online life drawing courses for The Art Institute Online. The students are very positive and excited about working online. I like the fact that Im able to closely examine the work they submit and give well thought-out answers and individualized feedback.

In my experience as both an art student and art educator, Ive found that courses such as drawing often touch students sensitivities on a deep level. Its great to be able to word constructive criticism carefully, read it over and reword or rearrange statements so theyll have maximum educational rather than emotional effect. Im able to give lots of pointed feedback to each individual and refer to each piece they submit.

The popularity of the online courses at the San Francisco school mirrors the growth in online education nationwide. More than two million students will be enrolled in distance learning programs in the United States by 2002, according to International Data Corporation. The quality and variety of online programs has burgeoned in recent years, and the accessibility of online learning has grown due to widespread use of the Internet, email and other applications.

For a virtual tour of the online classes, visit The Art Institute Online at For more information about The Art Institutes International at San Francisco, call (888) 493-3261 or (415) 865-0198 or visit the schools web site at

The Art Institutes International at San Francisco is one of The Art Institutes, a system of 23 educational institutions located nationwide, providing an important source of design, media arts, fashion and culinary professionals. The parent company of The Art Institutes, Education Management Corporation, is among the largest providers of proprietary post-secondary education in the U.S., offering bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree and non-degree programs. EDMC has provided career-oriented education programs for over 35 years, and its Art Institutes have graduated more than 125,000 students. The Art Institutes web site is