online learning, university, traditional classroom, in person learning, special needs, education, higher education

Online Education’s Perks 

Is online education an effective learning tool or a duplicitous marketing scam for sub par college courses? Dodging an overwhelming number of conflicting studies, interpretations and opinions, many parents and students feel that it’s nearly impossible to be “on the ball” and make heads or tails of the truth. Therefore, it’s essential to evaluate the two sides of this proverbial online educational coin: the virtues of online education versus its challenges.

On the one hand, many studies suggest that online college courses cost less and provide equal opportunity for less mobile students who are often inundated with work woes and other time constraints. According to Open Education’s “10 Advantages to Taking Online Courses,” the world of online ed is replete with:

  • A broader range of course variety and selection
  • Lower costs for students and the institution
  • Less (if any) commute time
  • Convenience for working students with computer access
  • Course flexibility and “work at your own pace” options

Similarly, Wired Magazine’s Op Ed, “Why Online Learning Is More Valuable Than Traditional College,” asserts that since the dawn of video conferencing, through Skype, Wimba or Google Hangouts, online education possesses almost everything a traditional tutoring or teaching environment includes, but every task can be accomplished without wasted resources and time on traveling, parking, fuel,books, etc. Online visual learning not only provides accountability for both teacher and student, but many contend that the optics also support student-teacher rapport.

Furthermore, The Best Colleges’ “2017 Online Education Trends Report” suggests that online classes may be best suited for “Industry Switchers” or mature adults seeking a career change and “Career Accelerators,” older industry professionals who enroll in additional courses to earn a credits, certificates and/or degrees that yield higher salaries

Online Education’s Challenges

Despite the benefits for working adults, in person or face-to-face education may be the superior option.

For one, a recent 2017 study explored in Inside Higher Ed’s “Online Education Costs More, Not Less,” contends online education is not necessarily more affordable.

21 components of an online course, such as faculty development, instructional   design and student assessment, and how the cost of those components compares to a similar face-to-face course. The respondents — administrators in charge of distance education at 197 colleges — said nine of the components cost more in an online course than in a face-to-face course, while 12 cost about the same.

In other words, students will pay a higher tuition in order to offset the more expensive aspects of online learning even though students may save on time and travel.

Furthermore, Issues in Science and Technology’s article, “The Online Challenge to Higher Education,” highlights the multitude of online academia’s barriers, such as the:

  • predatory nature of for-profit online universities that charge exorbitant fees for a mediocre curriculum
  • lag in updating educational technology and analyzing its trends
  • inability to accommodate the necessary discourse in humanities disciplines
  • absence of “developing expertise through oral expression and presentations”
  • abandonment of lab sciences
  • lack of community to facilitate research and peer learning

Online learning may be convenient for financially astute working adults pursuing vocational training or extension courses, but may not suit the novice university student. Issues in Science and Technology clearly indicates, “Although computer simulations and modeling can capture elements of how to perform research, in many fields the student ultimately needs to be at a lab bench or in the field, interacting with a research team for project-based learning.”

The deficits of online learning for college students with ADHD, Executive Functioning Disorder and other special needs are more pronounced than its advantages in Understood’s study, “Online Colleges: Pros and Cons for Students with Learning and Attention Issues.” For instance, while students are permitted to arrange their own class schedule for online institutions, what if they are not able to manage their time, prioritize and make critical scheduling decisions? The predetermined schedule of in person or traditional classroom education is preferable.

Additional concerns for university students who need more support include a lack of:

  • in person guidance and connection to professors and peers
  • discovery of new interests and skills through social interactions
  • opportunity to make professional connections and build new friendships
  • support services such as individual tutoring
  • social and emotional learning among a group

In sum, online courses are tailored toward motivated and knowledgeable adults who are computer adept and experienced. Online education can bridge a vocational or financial gap for mature learners who are already professionally connected, intrinsically driven and crunched for time.

However, for the beginning university scholar or one who is in need of structure and community, the university classroom may be the more apt environment. Simply put, the convenience of online learning is no substitute for the dynamism of a classroom in which a plurality of ideas, human interaction and campus support coexist for the betterment of every participant.