The expansion of the Internet has included swift development of online college classes and programs. Students at many colleges and universities have access to a number of online options that either supplement classroom learning, or in some cases, provide an entire degree program. Understanding the pros and cons of both learning formats can help you decide which learning environment best suits your educational needs.
A major reason students turn to online classes is because of the convenience. You can sit at home or go to a library to do your coursework. This eliminates the need for driving, which saves gas, and in some cases, allows you to take classes from distant schools. Online learners also get to develop their Internet, technology and virtual team skills by participating in online discussions, tests and other virtual learning activities. The ability to do coursework on your own schedule and to manage the pace of your learning experience are also benefits to online students.
A key factor in assessing your potential for effective online learning is your level of self-discipline. Students sometimes misconstrue that online classes are less rigorous or time-consuming. Instead, they require more self-discipline, time management and motivation to complete work. Limited interaction and access to instructors and no personal contact with other students are also common drawbacks. While effective online instructors are available via e-mail, phone and web conferencing, you don't have the same interpersonal relationship in most cases. The potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings is more prevalent online as well, especially given the lack of context and nonverbal messages in e-mail and discussion forums.
Classroom learning typically offers multi-sensory appeal. You can listen to the instructor, receive visual cues through PowerPoint images, handouts or whiteboard lists and participate actively in hands-on activities and case studies. You also have direct access to the instructor in class. Interaction is immediate and you normally have opportunities to ask questions and participate in live discussions. This also allows you to benefit form the firsthand accounts of other students' experiences. If you want to build and maintain personal and professional relationships during your education, classrooms also offer greater personal contact with other students.
In contrast to online learning, classroom learning is normally fairly structured. You meet at regularly scheduled times on the same days each week. This limits flexibility with work and other activities. You generally must be in class to get the learning experience and to keep up with requirements. Unless your instructors record lectures, in-class instruction is not available after the class session is over. Students who struggle to focus may also find classrooms and cohorts distracting to their learning experience.
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