Choosing Online vs. Traditional Classroom Education
I felt compelled to write an article about the differences between online and traditional college classes after reading another author's article, "Why Traditional Classroom Learning is better than Online Courses". The author's assumptions about traditional vs. online learning is biased, clearly showing favoritism towards traditional classroom learning.
I have decided to play devil's advocate in order to help my readers understand the advantages of both online and traditional classes and how to choose what types of classes to take based on individual needs and learning styles.
There are many variables which influence the effectiveness of online vs. traditional classroom settings for students. My article will discuss the real culprit responsible for the success or failure of a student.
Interpersonal Skill and Development
There is no denying that face-to-face interaction in the classroom can help us learn how to work in groups and have an open and continuous dialogue. Online classes, even with the use of message boards, will experience a delay in conversation since students have the chance to post at any time during the day. However, it would not be fair to say that online courses eliminate critical thinking. In fact, students have a chance to read others' thoughts and formulate a well thought-out response.
Professionalism is something that many people assume can only be learned in person. This is also false. Professionalism can be expressed in a myriad of ways. Language and organization are key aspects to formulating a professional, written message. This also applies to speech when talking face-to-face with others. A poorly organized resume with general language will likely be overlooked by potential employers. A conversation from an online classroom message board could go one of two ways.
Example 1: "Hey there fellow classmate, I like your post it was so cool and interesting! You should get an A for sure!"
Example 2: Hello there fellow classmate, I enjoyed reading your argument, and thought points "a, b, & c" had a strong connection to the content we are studying. However, I think points "d" and "e" need more supporting evidence. Do you think that point "f" could be an alternative way look at the situation?"
These examples are very rough, but as you can see, Example 2 is much more professional in terms of language use, organization, and critical thinking. My point is that anyone can create intelligent dialogue, whether the conversation occurs in-person or online.
Lack of Memory, Development, & Motivation
Although it is true that information can easily be accessed online and allow for dishonest academic engagement, online classes are not responsible for students' lack of memory or learning development. Cheating can occur in both online and traditional classroom settings.
Learning from an online course is not effortless. In fact, online courses can be very challenging if they are designed well. It is a common misconception that online classes are somehow "easier" than traditional classes. A well-designed online class will encourage students to critically think and create well thought-out responses which are measurable and can be graded based on several different criteria. For example, student participation in a classroom would require more than "I thought it was a cool book" as a response in order to receive credit for participation. The same applies to online courses. A response that is unmotivated and fails to meet certain criteria should not receive credit.
The bottom line is that online courses do not create lazy, uneducated, or timid students.
If the type of classroom setting is not the real culprit behind the success or failure of student learning, then what is?
Student and Teacher Competency
Ultimately, students are responsible for their level of competency, regardless of whether they are taking online vs. traditional classes, or a combination of the two.
A competent student will not try to cheat. A competent student will be involved with their education and take classwork seriously. A competent student will be dedicated to their studies and exhibit professionalism and ethics in their work. Memory comes from understanding content, not from how the content is read.
Another aspect to learning is of course the role of the professor. The quality of a student's education does depend on the quality of the instructor. A competent professor will not accept poorly thought-out responses. A competent professor will give students thoughtful and engaging questions to generate conversation between students about the subject matter. Even lecture-based classes should challenge students' thinking with questions linking assigned readings to the lecture content. Professors should have a way to grade students based not only on test scores and memorization, but also on understanding of content through engaging discussions. Discussion can happen online just as it can in the classroom. Online message boards, peer editing, and email are perfectly suitable means of communication and interaction.
Although face-to-face interactions can greatly improve a student's confidence, the same can be said with online interactions. Feedback is critical for helping a student to develop social skills, even online.
Which is the Smarter Choice?
I was actually quite appalled to read the other author's viewpoint about what constitutes a smart choice. From what I can see, the author made his choice based on assumptions, many of which are likely wrapped up in personal experiences, either due to negative experiences with online learning, or complete lack of experience with online learning.
I would agree that face-to-face interaction is a great way to have an active discussion. Although online discussion can be just as valuable and educational, traditional classrooms give us the opportunity to meet in the same place at the same time and actively discuss topics within a short period of time and learn how to problem solve in groups. It also gives students a chance to create more interactive presentations which may not always be accomplished online.
For example, I was enrolled in a class for Human Development in which the class put together a food drive and several events to raise awareness about hunger among college students. Our event highlighted ways in which schools can provide low-cost, nutritional options to students without singling anybody out. We also hosted a can drive and collected anonymous surveys around campus to answer questions about hunger among college students.
Traditional classes are great for social people who enjoy exploring campus, becoming involved with student activities, and making new friends. Traditional classes can build stronger relationships with teachers who will remember you. This would be very useful if you ever need a reference for graduate school or even for a new career.
Online classes also have advantages. Although you cannot do everything online, discussions can be just as valuable. Online classes give students a chance to read what others have to say and take the time to formulate well thought-out responses, think critically, and create solutions to problems.
For example, I was enrolled in an online Human Development course which taught students about different types of social intervention programs. On our own, we evaluated different types of intervention programs pertaining to a specific topic and created a spreadsheet and research paper presenting data about the different programs and from that developed our own, unique intervention program. We peer-reviewed each others' projects. The teacher graded us not only on our projects but also how in-depth and thoughtful our peer-reviews were. I have also taken several online and hybrid psychology courses in which a message board was available to the class. Each week we were given assignments such as reading PDF materials or finding our own scholarly research articles in order to generate responses, solve problems, and write our own papers. Online classes can be taken at universities in different states, even different countries.
Online classes are wonderful for people who have a lot of time constraints. For those of us who work full time or are stay-at-home parents who still want to continue our education, online classes provide a way for us to achieve our academic goals while still pursuing other aspects of our lives. Traditional classes are at set times with a set designation. For those who do not live on campus, this requires transportation. Everything else in your life will soon start to revolve around your class scheduling, which can be very stressful.
I had a mixture of online and traditional classes. Without online courses I would not have been able to obtain 2 degrees, a minor, and a certificate program within 6 years. Furthermore, I moved to Michigan from Pennsylvania in the middle of my last semester of college. I am grateful to have such understanding teachers who were willing to allow me to complete my courses through online means.
Consider the option of taking hybrid classes, or a mixture of traditional and online classes which may tailored to your individual needs.
Video: Learning Styles
Which Learning Style helps you the most?
OTHER VARIABLES TO CONSIDER
Another thing to consider when choosing online versus traditional classes is your personal learning style. There are 3 main learning styles: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (physical).
1.) Visual learners may excel in both classroom settings. Some visual learners rely on seeing the teacher's body language, while others rely on studying diagrams and images. Visual learners typically take very detailed notes to further absorb the information.
2.) Auditory learners would most likely be better off in a classroom setting to listen to discussions and lectures through interpreting tone of voice, and pace of speech. However, even online classrooms can accommodate auditory learners through use of recorded audio files as an alternative or supplemental tool to written text.
3.) Kinesthetic (physical, tactile) learners would most likely excel in a traditional classroom. They learn best by interacting with the physical world around them. Sitting at a computer for several hours may not be stimulating enough, in which case the student may lose focus and experience difficulty concentrating.
There are also unique intelligence types. Some students will analyze speech, while others analyze puzzles, videos, syntax and meaning of words, numbers, equations, categorization, rhythm, body language, or inner feelings. The way in which students think and analyze different types of information will greatly influence what type of classroom setting is best for them.
For example, I tend to have an "interpersonal" and "visual" intelligence. I enjoy analyzing thoughts and feelings of myself and others. I also prefer to read and write as opposed to listening to lectures. However I am also perfectly capable of sitting through a lecture both as an observer and a participant. I enjoyed having traditional and online classes alike from a learning perspective.
In the end, the smartest decision for choosing between traditional and online courses is simply choosing whichever one is best for your lifestyle and learning style. There is no black-and-white "smarter" option and it would be foolish to claim otherwise. We as a human race have a right to autonomy. That is to say, we have the freedom to make our own choices. What works for one person may not work for another. Outside influences such as teacher competency may also play a role in your decision. Some students may not be able to learn in a classroom, and some teachers may not be able to create a comprehensive, effective online curriculum. Read reviews about different colleges and research the quality of different programs.
A Final Word
As a final word to my readers, remember that your education is in YOUR hands.
What type of student do YOU want to be?
What type of class will meet YOUR personal and educational needs?
Thank you for reading!