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Online vs. Traditional College: How They Stack up — 2018 Edition

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In 2018, online education no longer seems like a scam or a joke. So many legitimate schools offer online courses – free and tuition-based – that students need not worry whether they are truly enhancing their future by enrolling in an internet-based program.

Even so, the preference for a so-called traditional college education is high. Though more than one-third of all current college students have taken at least one online course, two-thirds are enrolled in exclusively in-person, on-campus programs. Students prefer to be inside classrooms – but is there any real benefit to physically going to class? Might online education be more effective at conveying course materials while also offering convenience, flexibility, and affordability to students? This updated guide to online vs traditional college finds out.

Benefits of Traditional Education

It should hardly be surprising that there are benefits to this mode of schooling, seeing that it has morphed through the years to adequately address both student and teacher needs and is so widely popular around the world. Here are a few common advantages to traditional education:

  • Hands-on instruction. When sharing a space with their instructors, students can be physically directed in their lessons. This is especially useful in physical trades, like cooking or architecture.
  • Collaborative learning. It is much easier to recognize, form relationships and work together with peers when students see and interact with fellow students in person. This might also bring a sense of belongingness, which can help engage students in their courses.
  • Accountability. For some students, the inflexibility of traditional education seems advantageous because it eliminates the need for them to plan their week or the risk of procrastinating school work. Physically seeing and speaking to peers and professors often forces students to be more accountable with their education.

“Studies show that having more control over the pace and environment of your learning can have very positive effects. For example, your ability to retain information diminishes after 25-30 minutes. And something as simple as changing scenery improves retention when studying. So the freedom to study when and where you want isn’t just convenient – it’s a grade booster.” – New York Post

Benefits of Online Education

Many of the benefits of online education are already well-established in other online articles – but that doesn’t make them any less true. Here are the widely recognized advantages of eLearning as well as some boons you might not have known about:

  • Flexibility. Though some online programs follow a rigid schedule, most allow students to log on and learn at their convenience for a certain period. That means students can largely maintain their normal lifestyle – full-time work, family activities, etc. – while earning an online business certificate or other degree.
  • Lower cost. Generally, tuition for online-only programs is lower and online course fees rarely exist because universities save money when students learn over the web. Additionally, students can avoid the costs of relocating near a campus and commuting to classes.
  • Greater engagement. Because professors cannot count heads in an online course, many require digital discussions or assignments to prove students are watching lectures and engaging with course material. This compels students to learn actively and interact with peers when they might have been more passive in a traditional classroom.
  • Better outcomes. In a study by MIT, researchers found that online courses can be more effective than traditional education. Because online classes utilize multiple forms of learning, they help all levels of learners improve their knowledge and skill.



Detriments of Traditional Education

Everything that online education does well, traditional education does poorly. Thus, these downsides of in-person classes might look familiar:

  • High cost. Between 1988 and 2018, tuition costs grew 213 percent – which is more than double the inflation of all consumer items. Traditional education is costly, requiring physical space, energy and supplies, but schools can obviously charge much more than that.
  • Authoritarianism. Often, in-person classrooms develop an authoritarian atmosphere, where students come to rely heavily on the teacher’s assistance and the teacher refuses to accept student input. This stifles growth and creativity.
  • Rigidity. The rigidity of traditional education precludes many would-be students from bettering themselves. Because certain programs only occur during certain times of the day, week or year, many students simply cannot make time to earn the credentials they want and need.

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Detriments of Online Education

Online education is new, so it should hardly be surprising that online programs still have a few kinks to be worked out. Fortunately, they are relatively minor, such as:

  • Risky quality. Though the vast majority of online programs are legitimate and offer high-quality education, some are still scams. Students must be aware of warning signs of dishonest programs.
  • Intensity. Online programs are rigorous. They demand self-discipline and impeccable time management, and even so, they push students to their academic limits. While students can often float through traditional education passively soaking up knowledge, eLearning requires consistently active participation, which can be tiring.

Conclusion

Though traditional education has had millennia to refine its format, newer and more advanced online learning platforms seem to offer greater opportunities for student success. Students should weigh their options before committing to any type of program to ensure they are doing what’s right for their future.

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