The past two decades have seen an almost exponential rise in the availability and popularity of online college classes and degree programs. Their pervasiveness begs the question as to the difference in a credit or degree earned in an online setting versus that of the traditional classroom. These two educational delivery systems will be compared from the perspectives of flexibility, the student experience, the impact of technology, and the issue of acceptability of online classes and degree programs.
One of the major advantages of an online degree program is the flexibility it provides to someone working a demanding job, living geographically removed from a college campus, or that simply finds it most convenient for a host of other reasons. These challenges of the modern workforce have in fact been the big driver behind the exponential rise in online degree programs over the past decade. Furthermore, the flexibility provided by an online degree program enables tailoring a program matched to personal learning style and pace.
An area of great contrast between the two forms of education regards the student experience. For example, students may enjoy taking tests or listening to lectures in the comfort of their own home. However, this poses a major disadvantage of not being able to ask questions as they naturally arise. An online student may have to wait around for their instructor to respond to an email, whereas being present in a classroom permits questions to be asked and answered on the spot. Another advantage of attending a brick-and-mortar college is having access to classmates for study groups or help with homework. After reading several students opinions on their online classes, I have come to realize the overall experience depends on the student, college, class, and professor. One student wrote, “I must admit that these are my first online courses, but I expected a lot more interaction with the professors. Essentially this program is nothing more than independent study with a class webpage to submit homework and take quizzes and tests. There are no lectures or interaction with your instructor except by email; not my idea of a college class” (Phillips). I interviewed a close friend of mine, Megan Sambenedetto, currently enrolled in online classes. Megan enjoys the freedom of a less structured environment. As she puts it, “I like that I can do my homework in advance and turn it in as soon as I want to. I never miss anything due to being sick or going out of town. That would have to be the best part. However, sometimes I don’t understand the instructions and have to wait forever for my professor to reply.” She also thinks that because she is taking the class online, the professor’s assign more work and give her less time to accomplish it than if she were in the classroom. Conversations with her friends taking the same courses in the classroom confirmed her suspicions.
Undoubtedly, technology has had a tremendous impact on the...