In 1999, Mark Bonner of PricewaterhouseCoopers accurately predicted, “Online learning will rapidly become one of the most cost-effective ways to educate the world’s expanding workforce.” Fifteen years later, his statement is truer than ever, as the price of going to a four-year university skyrockets, and technology required to get the same degree online becomes more available. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2000 to 2010, the average cost for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions increased over forty percent.
There is good reason for the growth in online learning in college environments. Student populations have diversified since the introduction of the personal computer and internet (O’Malley and McCraw). Students with geographic, job, or other constraints are now able to benefit from a college education because advances in technology have enabled learning for those for whom higher education was previously not within the realm of possibility.
There are also many conveniences and benefits to taking an online class over a traditional, face-to-face class. Many students benefit logistically, financially, and from the course structure itself. Online classes provide the student with more opportunities to be successful in their coursework. Online courses can be completed based on the student's own schedule, provide for faster and less nervous interactions with instructors, and in many cases, are more educationally beneficial setting alternatives to traditional, face-to-face classes. In fact, Sixty-seven percent of academic professionals evaluated online courses as equivalent to as or better than face-to-face courses (Lytle).
Development of online courses began when personal computers became widely available in the 1980s and 1990s. Before these technological innovations, class populations were mostly made up of recent high school graduates in their late teens to early twenties who lived on campus. As technology became more accessible, the diversification in student populations developed hand-in-hand with more diverse course delivery methods (O’Malley and McCraw). Today, online courses are offered at most colleges to fit the needs of their diverse study bodies, and students who otherwise, would not be able to take these courses. A study published in US News reported, more than six million students took at least one online course during the fall 2010 semester, which is an increase of over ten percent from the fall 2009 semester (Lytle).
Many studies have found insignificant differences between online and traditional course settings. For instance, in a literature review by Friday, et al., the results of many studies did not show any substantial differences in performance between online and traditional courses (69).
However, Friday, et al., noted that at the undergraduate level, face-to-face methods of course delivery are more beneficial in terms of student learning compared to online,...