While many universities are pushing online programs because they are an easy way to get higher enrollment (not to mention they are more cost effective), there are several advantages to traditional classroom learning that can’t be denied.
Classroom learning typically offers a multi-sensory appeal. A student can listen to the instructor, receive visual cues from PowerPoint slides, handouts or whiteboard/chalkboard lists, and participate in hands-on activities. Students can also access the instructor in class.
Interaction is immediate and there are opportunities to ask questions and participate in real, person-to-person discussions. This also allows students to benefit from the firsthand accounts of other students’ experiences.
According to a study done by the University of the Potomac, only 26 percent of online students claim to learn better online than in a classroom.
Cheating could also be a concern for online courses. Even if courses are designed to avoid tests, and therefore avoid cheating, certain classes cannot be evaluated the same, even with the use of essays. A traditional class with tests and an online class without tests are not even comparable. The learning experience for a student who has to go through studying and preparation for that test would definitely go far beyond a student who simply answers discussion questions on a given topic in an online forum.
There are, of course, other disadvantages to online courses. Online classes require more self-discipline, time management and motivation to complete work. Limited conversations with and access to instructors with no personal contact with other students are also major cons for many students.
Well-prepared online instructors are available via e-mail, phone and instant messaging; students still won’t develop the same interpersonal relationship in most cases. The potential for misunderstanding is always more prevalent in online communication, especially because of the lack of context and nonverbal clues in e-mail and discussion boards.
We think online classes can never truly replace certain aspects of traditional classrooms, and that universities should keep that in mind when pushing for online instruction.