A Comparison of Online Learning and Traditional Learning

Technological advances are happening at an all-time quickest rate, what is new today may very well be obsolete just a few short months from now. Types of new technology that haveshaped people’s current ways of life include: the internet (and by proxy, wireless internet), computers (ones that are small enough to fit on your lap!), and the smart phone. Each of these devices have one key trait in common, they allow mankind to stay in touch with one another even when great distances are an obstacle. These new advances have allowed mankind to rethink traditional ways in many sectors, including education.

In the education sector, learning in an online environment, as opposed to a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, has steadily become a better choice to compliment student’s needs, interest, skills, and way of life. y compare online learning to tradition learning, one must examine the college setting as a while first; college tuition and other college expenses have spiked over the last two decades and students, now more than ever, are looking at new ways to reduce these costs. From 1985 until present, the cost of college tuition has risen over 500 percent, nearly twice as much as the medical industry during the same time period, which rose 286 percent; comparing this rate hike to the inflation rate hike of the same time period, which was 121 percent, a student can tell just how far his or her dollar has fallen over the decades…or maybe not, the cost may have kept this potential student out of school (Notte, 2013).

Students have started trending towards the online learning environment to help reduce the price hikes of a college education; education costs are typically lower in an online environment for various reasons, such as: not needing to house a student in a physical classroom, the lack of need for physical supplies you would see in a physical classroom (desks, etc.), and the ability to deliver the product (education) to a larger audience, as an online environment can house more students than the typical physical classroom. One of the many types of online classrooms is called a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses; MOOCs have the ability to reach host largequantities of students, may do so from any location with internet access, and cost less than an average classroom. These advantages extend beyond only benefitting the schools themselves, student’s education costs are reduced due to not needing to pay for room and board; additionally, even smaller costs are eliminated, for example, the need to travel back and forth from school and home (Todhunter, 2013).

One of the effects of a higher cost of education is that students are often full time professionals as well as students, and therefore flexibility becomes a trait that is much more beneficial; nearly 80 percent of undergraduate students work at least 30 hours per week while attending school. Online learning is often very flexible for the current student, with most online environments offering asynchronous schedules, meaning the teacher can be teaching, while the student is learning at completely separate times, giving the student the added ability to relatively work at his or her own pace and schedule. In this type of environment even fellow students do not keep the same schedule or pace and instead are allowed to progress through the assignmentsindependently of one another. This, however, does not stall communications as students and instructors can set up meetings over the phone, chat, or Skype, among other methods, and online lectures can be recorded by the instructor to be viewed by the students at his or her own leisure (Hsiung & Deal, 2013).

The online learning environment has continued to grow since its inception, constantly increasing the efficiency in which it can be used, and therefore becoming more effective as a learning tool. Measuring student progress is no easy feat as there are many ways in which to measure and perception of that effective measurement is relative to the individual; there are, however, a few statistics that give a fairly accurate picture of how well a school is, or is not, doing: what percentage of courses are completed successfully, what percentage of courses are withdrawn from, how effective does the school build up a student’s skill set, and of course, grades. When it comes to the completion rate of course, traditional classes have historically outpaced online classes by between 10-20 percent, depending on the year; but these statistics do not take into account that online courses include many more students who are also full time workers. Although competition rates have been higher at traditional schools, students of online schools have scored higher during tests administered after the class is over than their traditional student counterparts (Kaymak & Horzum, 2013).

Interactivity has shown to be one of the most important aspects in creating and maintaining an effective online classroom; an online class that has been deemed to have substandard interactivity among its students is more likely to have students with lower grades than an online classroom with adequate interactivity; this is due in part because online students must manage their class time more individually than traditional students, and a clunky or otherwise poorly run classroom is frustrating. Technology and social media usage makes interactivity for online students much easier with tools like: live video conferencing, webmail, chat rooms and the ability to record these types of settings (Todhunter, 2013).

Opponents of online learning have criticized the mediums ability to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classes, noting the fact that laboratory assignments cannot be replicated in an online setting and that hands on experience is much more beneficial for these types of classes. While these classes are harder to replicate in an online setting, new technology has once again propelled online learning to a new level with simulators; simulators, while not quite the hands on experience, can replicate these types of settings much better than anything previously used, and they are continuing to improve. A well-known example of simulator software is Physioex, used for many types of science classes (Kaymak & Horzum, 2013).

Opposition of online learning also criticize the dropout rates of online students, citing the previously mentioned fact that online students have a 10 to 20 percent higher attrition rate than traditional students. There are many reasons for this, many of which fall on the student and his or her circumstances; online students are more likely to be full time workers, parents, or to be married, giving them many more activities to split his or her time with. Additionally, the asynchronous setting of online classes can also work against online learning, as students are more likely to quit something they never have to physically go to (Kaymak & Horzum, 2013).

Comparing the demographics of students in an online setting versus students in a traditional setting can further explain the attrition rates. As expected, the average age of a student in a traditional setting is from 18 to 22 years old, and less than half of that population holds a job while enrolled in class; students in an online setting, however, averagely range from 30 to 34 Years old, with over 80 percent of that population being employed (Pew Research). While the online environment is far from perfect, it has continued to tackle its problems with a head on approach, from implementing new technology as it becomes available, to finding ways to improve the student experience. These traits, combined with being less costly, more flexible and adhering to the ever changing student needs, have propelled online learning to become a better choice in the education sector over traditional brick-and-mortar settings.

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