Approximately 31 percent of all college students took at least one online class in the fall of 2010, according to "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011" by The Sloan Consortium. This percentage is expected to grow in the coming years. As college students set their class schedules, they can examine the different formats of online and face-to-face classes, including their strengths and weaknesses.
A significant distinction between online and face-to-face classes lies in the area of communication. Online students typically communicate with instructors via phone or e-mail, while traditional classroom students have more direct contact with professors. This allows for conversations before and after class and easier ability to stop by and visit with a professor about concerns or grades. Face-to-face students also have informal communication in person with other students, while students in online classes typically interact with peers through virtual discussions and e-mail.
The learning process online is usually more self-driven and autonomous than the face-to-face experience. Students in a classroom who attend diligently receive regular communication about class assignments and direct instructions from professors. Online students need a higher degree of personal responsibility and discipline. If students are effective schedulers, enjoy independent work and using technology for school work, and meet deadlines consistently, they can have success online. Those who need personal contact and a more structured learning environment may benefit from the traditional class.
Each class format has central strengths. Face-to-face classes offer a social experience, personal connections, structured learning and consistent communication. Online classes have grown because of demand for more flexible learning. This is especially true among working adult populations who cannot attend school in a traditional way. The ability to complete work at night or on weekends from the comfort of home are common appeals of Internet courses.
Traditional classes require that students travel to and from class. This can be expensive relative to home-based online courses. Additionally, traditional classes have restrictive preset meeting times. Some students may also struggle to concentrate in a classroom setting. Online classes, however, do not offer the same intimacy and personal attention; students who need regular interaction and accountability from professors may not do well in online courses. You also need a reliable computer and Internet connection for online classes and parents may have to deal with kids running around at home if they cannot easily find quiet space and time.
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