Online education, also known as distance learning, has risen in popularity over the last two decades. In fact, the number of students taking at least one online college course has increased each consecutive year since 2002 — and at a greater rate than higher education enrollment overall.
Now, amidst a global pandemic, many colleges and universities are ramping up their online course offerings. And as we approach a new academic year, many college students — both existing and new — may be wondering, “Which class structure is best for me?”
Perhaps you’ve gotten a taste of online learning during the COVID-19 quarantine. Maybe you struggled with time management or self-motivation along the way. Or, maybe you excelled in the comfort of your own home, and enjoyed working at your own pace. Perhaps you fell somewhere in the middle, enjoying aspects of online classes while missing the in-person, on-campus experience.
Everyone has different experiences with online and traditional classes, and everyone will have their own preference when it comes to earning a degree. Both paths have pros and cons, and both are valued by modern employers across the industries.
Online Education Vs Traditional Education
According to recent research, more than 75 percent of academic leaders feel that online education is equal or superior to on-campus learning. Almost 70 percent of chief academic officers believe online learning is a critical component of long-term educational strategies. It’s no wonder why.
There are many benefits of taking classes online. Online programs make a college degree more accessible for many students — particularly those who are working full-time, who have family obligations, and/or who live far from the college campus. Online classes also give students more autonomy over their learning, and allow them to work at an individualized pace.
However, are online classes right for everyone? Today, about 1 in every 4 students claim that they learn better via online classes. This means that 3 out of 4 students still feel they perform better in a traditional classroom setting.
When weighing online classes vs. traditional classes, it is most important to consider your own unique learning style and scheduling needs. Below, we break down three of the top considerations for choosing between online classes and traditional classes on-campus.
1. Class Flexibility
One of the obvious benefits of online classes is the level of flexibility you get. You can continue working, running the household, and take classes all at once. While online students receive deadlines, there is more flexibility around what their day — they can choose when will study, complete assignments, listen to lectures, and more.
With a traditional class format, there is often a lack of flexibility. You must attend your classes in person, meaning there is usually a commute and strict scheduling involved. However, there are still flexible class options out there. If you prefer to take classes on-campus, you can find a school that will allow you to create a customized schedule that works around your needs (like Goodwin).
As noted above, taking college classes online gives students more independence and control over their education. This, in turn, requires great self-discipline and self-motivation. In an online program, you must be able to motivate yourself to complete required reading and assignments. You must hold yourself accountable for these tasks. You must know how to manage and regulate your time. While these skills are required in traditional class settings as well, your success in an online program will be dependent on your ability to self-motivate and get things done.
If you feel as though you work well independently, and can balance your schedule, online classes may be for you. However, if you struggle with keeping pace in an online curriculum, you may benefit from a more traditional setting. Keep in mind, online learning takes time to get used to! There are many strategies you can implement to ease into online classes, such as establishing a routine and setting up a dedicated workspace. Get tips for successful online studies.
3. Social Interactions
Many people crave the traditional college experience, which might involve dorm rooms, smart boards, and exploring campus grounds. Some people enjoy meeting with their professors and peers in person, or learn better in a face-to-face setting. If you are a more social learner, you may benefit from a traditional classroom model. However, you may not want to dismiss your online options.
One misconception around online coursework is that it requires no interaction. In reality, your peers and professors are right at your fingertips! Online college classes often utilize collaborative resources (such as Blackboard and video conferencing tools) to encourage regular communications, discussions, and brainstorms.
Hybrid Online and Traditional Classes: Are they an Option for You?
If you are still unsure whether online classes or traditional classes are right for you, you may consider both. (Yes, this is an option!) Some higher ed institutions, such as Goodwin University, offer a blended or “hybrid” format for students needing flexibility. This means that some college classes are offered on-campus, while others can be taken online. All classes, no matter the format, count towards your degree.
Hybrid degree programs allow students to get the best of both worlds. Online resources are readily available to students, supplementing traditional instruction (rather than replacing it). Students can meet with professors in person, collaborate with peers in class, and still benefit from the flexibility of online classes. And, research shows they work. As reported in one study, students (at nearly all levels of achievement) do just as well in hybrid classes as they do in traditional classrooms.