Today, when online education is becoming a vital part of the education family, almost all major American colleges and universities offer distance education, or online, courses. Online education, or as it is often called “e-education,” is able to reach a broader student audience, address the needs of learners in better ways, and save money, while using the principles of the contemporary learning pedagogy (Forman, 2001). Online courses allow students to take classes while living in different states or in different countries. Some schools offer traditional courses, online distance courses, or hybrid courses; the latter includes taking both traditional and online classes. Even schools with the most traditional educational strategies, often called “brick and mortar” schools, gradually start offering online courses in response to the skyrocketing number of students partaking in the online experience. As online education becomes increasingly popular among young people, pushing traditional educational models aside, it is necessary to compare and contrast these two approaches and find out which one offers more positive outcomes for students and their academic performance. The aim of this essay is to find out whether online learning is better, worse, or equal to traditional in-class learning while analyzing its advantages and drawbacks.
The difference between traditional and online education is especially noticeable in three dimensions: access to learning, classroom space, and the possibility of implementing innovative teaching practices. One of the major characteristics of online education is flexibility; the ability to take classes in any place with an internet connection at any time of the day or night. Traditional classes, on the contrary, are inflexible and much more teacher-centered (Barab, Thomas, & Merrill, 2001). Access to information is not limited to materials available in the classroom, and access to the classroom materials is no longer limited to the time of the lesson or to the physical classroom space. Being able to study when and where you like affords students from all walks of life with the availability of obtaining a degree. Whether the student is a young mother who is unable to attend traditional courses due to a lack of a babysitter, or a full time worker who cannot rearrange their schedule to make the traditional class times, these individuals will be able to obtain a degree regardless of that situation by simply taking online courses. The flexibility offered by the online education gives particular categories of students an important opportunity to meet their educational needs.
On the other hand, the advantage of traditional courses consists in offering student direct contact with teachers. Face to face communication allows students to ask questions concerning their classes and immediately get the answers they seek. Students are also able to meet with their classmates, developing friendships and fostering teamwork. The proponents of the traditional classroom model believe that the face-to-face contact allows students to enjoy the ability to learn with others and to know their instructors (McDonald, 2002). Indeed, learning in front of the PC may not be compared to the charm of going to lectures, living in the campus and visiting student parties, however, all of this has little to do with academic performance. The proponents of online learning argue that the latter offers students more time for digesting the information they receive and responding. They also claim that, while attending distance courses, students are able to better develop the skills needed in conducting open discussions, where each of the students receives more of an equal standing in comparison with a face-to-face discussion. This happens due to the fact that online students can make their responses around the clock with no restrictions, which enhances motivation and involvement on the learner’s part. Also, online classes provide an easy access to peers all over the world, which facilitates the establishment of a scholar networking for the intellectual exchange and collaboration purposes (McDonald, 2002). This has a profound impact on the professional life of the faculty, since it is no longer limited to geographical limits, when choosing collaborators.
The second significant difference between online and onsite education is classroom space. The very concept of the online learning has facilitated the invention of another, more suitable term – learning space. Online learning has been revolutionary in the world of education, creating an opportunity for collaboration, discussion and building a community among its participants, without being bound to the limits of a physical classroom. Usually faculty is free to choose between several online applications to encourage interaction through synchronous or asynchronous methods. Such methods work to extend class discussions, offering students the ability to delve deeper into a specific topic, affording students the opportunity to discuss a reading or build off of a lecture. This type of collaboration between students in the same class, students who may reside in different states or even in different countries the whole world over is possible only through the use of the virtual classroom (Barab, Thomas & Merrill, 2001).
The third significant difference between the two reviewed educational methodologies is the application of the new online teaching practices considered to be unusual for traditional education. Online learning strategies are known to involve innovational pedagogical technologies that greatly facilitate the process of learning. Such practices, as asynchronous and synchronous class discussions; constant commenting and answering questions of the classmates; application and document sharing were never or rarely used in the on-site courses before. In a traditional class, document sharing involved printing numerous copies of documents, thus involving additional costs. Collaboration and discussion in a group were limited by classroom space, restricted to a standard lesson time and to the opportunity of being heard and seen in the classroom (McDonald, 2002). Acquisition of these practices by the online education programs has turned them into an efficient and fascinating way of learning.
It is possible to see that there are different benefits to both the traditional education and the online education offered to students in this day and age. There are some individuals who are unable to work without direct classroom instruction; they are auditory learners, not visual ones, and for them the traditional classroom will be the place in which they are able to shine. Other students are visual learners, finding the traditional classroom tedious and boring, with the auditory lectures a waste of time as they have already read all of the material covered in the lecture. These visual learners excel when placed in an online classroom, as they are able to work at their own pace as opposed to the pace of the teacher or professor. While it cannot be stated that one method is better or worse than the other, it can be stated that one method will be better for some students than it will be for others, allowing college students to get the most out of their college experience and providing them with the availability to do it their own way.
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- Barab, S., Thomas, M. & Merrill, H. (2001). Online Learning: From Information Dissemination to Fostering Collaboration, Journal of Interactive Learning Research 12(1), 105-143.
- Forman, R. O. (2011). A comparison of success in on-campus versus distance learning for information systems course. Issues in Information Systems, 12(2), 63-66.
- McDonald, J. (2002). Is “as good as face-to-face” as good as it gets? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(2), 10-23.