Jul 29, 2017

Traditional vs. Online Education: Which type of learning is more efficient for higher education degrees?

Technology has changed the way society access and consumes information. Especially due to the Internet’s popularization, the most different types of knowledge are now available on a global scale. According to Stephen Hawking, “we are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain”. Therefore, as people learn from information, the Internet can be compared to a big worldwide classroom that links people willing to learn and allows a new way of learning and teaching. 

     Consequently, the online classroom is one of the most outstanding outcomes of this new media on the educational field. Basically, online learning defines an educational experience where the learner is at a distance from the instructor and uses a computer with Internet to access a learning environment where can find educational materials and interact with the tutor and other participants (Anderson, 16).

     In this context, many universities and colleges decided to use the technology benefits of the Internet to expand their market with online degrees. In 2012, 86 percent of traditional residential colleges offered courses through online learning (“Are Online Degrees”). On the other hand, while online courses are spreading widely, the traditional classroom still has the major role in the society’s education system. This conventional way of learning based on synchronous face-to-face meeting has similarities but significant differences with online education (“Face-to-Face Learning”). 

     Thus, it's convenient to do a precise examination of the similarities and differences between these types of education. Understanding their main contrasts, it's possible to present a more clear evaluation about in which situation one can be more efficient than other. So, even though online courses are a growing trend, learners need to consider the differences between online education and a traditional classroom before deciding which form of instruction to take.

     First of all, before a more detailed analysis of the contrasts, it's important to clarify what these concepts have in common and how they converge in some perspectives. Although the environment and the media used to educate is different, the main goal of both is to provide knowledge and, consequently, a specific degree certification. Even though some people believe that online courses are easier than traditional ones, these two types of learning have the same level of rigor and difficulty. And also both demand considerable planning from the teacher and students (“Similarities Between”).

     Moreover, students’ participation is equally necessary, and giving and receiving feedback is also very important in both environments (“Similarities Between”). However, although traditional and online educations have these basic similarities, the differences of this media change are outstanding and deserve a detailed explanation. Therefore, the main contrasts of these learning styles are manifested especially in three aspects: costs, flexibility, and interaction.

     Since e-learning reduces classroom costs for colleges and universities, this type of education greatly differs from traditional on a student’s budget perspective. While in a traditional program learners need to pay for the physical structure of the school, online academic institutions don't have this kind of spending, so their tuition fee is often very low. Moreover, there are some other extra costs that make the traditional classroom more expensive. For example, in an online program learners don't need to spend money on commuting such as a car (gas, parking, and maintenance) or public transportation. 

     Besides, in some cases, students that live far from a university town need to move to a new city to start their academic life and also cannot work in full-time. So, this situation can make the traditional learning financial impact even more significant. Also, in an online program, students don't need to buy the books because often most of the materials are available in the virtual learning environment. Therefore, the overall cost of online education is at least 80 times lower than traditional degrees (“Online Classes”).

     While the cost is an important contrast between these two learning styles, the aspect of flexibility is also one of the most outstanding elements that differ in this comparison. The flexibility or convenience is so striking that some researches show that 46% of the students choose an online school owing to its flexible schedule ("Infographic”). Since online education is based mostly on an asynchronous presence, the students have the freedom to arrange their own schedule. 

     In a virtual learning environment, learners can easily review content because all the materials are available 24/7 online (Piskurich, 10). Thus, while in the traditional university students need to follow the teacher’s pace, in an online institution they can experience a self-paced learning (Piskurich 10), which means that they have the flexibility to change their rhythm of learning whenever is more convenient. At the same time, these facilities demand self-discipline and time management from students.

     Another very contrasting factor between traditional and online education is the interpersonal interaction. Unlike in a traditional classroom, online students don't have a face-to-face contact with peers and tutors during their learning experience. This way, the traditional way of teaching can be more interactive and dynamic, while the virtual is usually characterized by a more isolated learning. Therefore, this lack of interaction reduces the sense of instructor and peer presence on e-learning (Jaggars 3). 

     Moreover, online students don't have extra activities like in traditional universities and colleges such as clubs, fraternities, and sororities. On the other hand, online education connects people around the world, so students can have classmates for different countries and learn new cultures. Overall, the popularization of online learning is inevitable. So, before choosing what is more efficient, students need to evaluate three main aspects: personal learning style, lifestyle, and objectives.

     First of all, students that aim a successful experience on online education need to have some essential features in their learning styles such as self-motivation, great time management, organization, and self-discipline. So, it is really important to evaluate the presence of these elements in the individual personal learning style before choosing an online program. Secondly, the lifestyle greatly affects the efficiency of the education style choice. In some cases, when people have a full-time job and also need to take care of their children, an online program can be a great solution because of its flexibility and convenience fit on this lifestyle. 

     Further, people with some medical or social concerns such as disabilities, illnesses and learning difficulties can find in the online learning environment a great way to overcome an educational barrier. Thirdly, the objective is also another aspect to evaluate before settling which kind of learning is more efficient. If, for example, a student wants a more social experience in order to build a network with faculty and peers, obviously, the online education is not suitable. On the other hand, if the learner’s objective is just to get a degree as soon as possible without worry about interpersonal interaction, an online program is surely more efficient.

     Finally, after analyzing these main contrasting aspects of traditional and online education it is clear that impossible generalize and state which one is more efficient in all cases. Looking carefully through the three criteria presented here, students can evaluate their needs and choose wisely which one better fits with their learning style, lifestyle and objectives. However, regardless the environment chosen, what really makes the difference in all kinds of learning experiences is the passion for the subject. If the learner has the intrinsic motivation to study something, doesn't matter if it is in a traditional way on online, the success will be inevitable.



Works Cited
Anderson, Terry. The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Edmonton: AU, 2008. Print; "Similarities Between Traditional and Online Learning." TDC 2 Class of 1st2012 Writing Portfolio. N.p., 03 June 2012. Web. 27 July 2016.

"Infographic: Growth of K-12 Digital Learning." Growth of K-12 Online Education Infographic. Connections Academy, 2015. Web. 27 July 2016.

"8 Reasons Students Are Choosing Online Schools Rather Than a Traditional Education – College Recruiter." N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2016.

Piskurich, George M. Getting the Most from Online Learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2004. Print.

Jaggars, Shanna Smith. "Choosing Between Online and Face-to-Face Courses: Community College Student Voices." American Journal of Distance Education 28.1 (2014): 27-38. Web.

Carliner, Saul. An Overview of Online Learning, Second Edition. HRD Press, © 2004. Books24x7. Web. Jul. 23, 2016.




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