Is online education equivalent to on-campus education? In many cases, yes.
There is good evidence that online education offers several significant advantages over classroom training – some of which may surprise you.
1. You’re not bound by geography
Thanks to tremendous advances in technology, higher education is now more accessible than ever before. Thanks to computer and Internet access, the entire world of education is open to you, as long as you have access to the Internet wherever you live.
This is not an exaggeration when you consider that in recent years renowned universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford have been offering free online courses without certificates in what are called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). MOOCs usually offer the same lecturers and study materials that you would receive if you visited the university in person.
It was probably inevitable that universities would want to monetize all the materials they offer online. In 2013, Georgia Tech was the first university to introduce a MOOC-based course. The University of Illinois followed suit two years later. Now more than 30 brick-and-mortar schools offer MOOC-based courses through partnerships with technology companies such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity.
But MOOCs are just the tip of the online learning iceberg. Digital and traditional institutions are also perfecting more intimate online learning opportunities with smaller classes and more personal contact between professors and students. Online courses abound, and if you can’t find what you want at your local university, you can probably find it at another school.
Whether you want to graduate with a 9-to-5 job or study the stars with some of the best astronomers in the world, you can probably find what you’re looking for online.
2. Online learning may be more engaging than classroom learning
A recent article in Forbes offers insight into the state of online learning. Researchers have studied how effective online learning is compared to classroom learning. The results so far are promising.
A study conducted by California State University, San Bernadino, found that two different groups of students – one who learned online and one who attended class – receiving the same instruction from the same professor performed equally well. However, the study found that the online students were less intimidated and the interaction between the students and the professor was of higher quality.
Moreover, the Forbes article indicates that online courses are more likely to offer material in attention-grabbing, multimedia formats that may be better suited to today’s students.
The bottom line is that educators have long known that different people absorb information in different ways, but teaching methods struggle to adapt to this. If you’re someone whose eyes water during a classroom lecture, you’ll find that you respond better to online learning methods.
3. Feedback is faster and more frequent
Believe it or not, online learners may have more contact with lecturers than classroom learners.
Online students are usually asked to take exams at shorter intervals so that professors can check their competence. In this way, learning deficits can be detected and addressed more quickly than if a struggling student slips through the cracks until the exam.
Remember, it’s not just about the grade point average. If you’re paying thousands of dollars for an education, you don’t want to hide at the back of the class. You want to make sure you understand the subject so you can apply it later.
4. Online college can be a cheaper way to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree
What is the biggest difference between an online degree and a traditional degree? The campus, of course. If you go to a regular university, you’ll probably have to spend several thousand dollars a year on food and lodging, and transportation.
With an online degree, all these costs come down, saving you a five-figure sum throughout your studies. A shot in the arm!
5. You may incur a lot less student loan debt
In addition to not having to pay for room, board, and lodging, studying online can significantly reduce your costs in other ways.
Most online courses are set up so that students work, possibly full-time. If you can continue to work while studying, you may have to take on less student loan debt.
A smaller loan means you pay less interest on the loan. Considering that it takes most people almost 20 years to pay off their student loans, reducing your total debt is one of the most important strategies you can employ. Your future self will thank you.
6. You have more control over your schedule
Absences and schedule conflicts are hardly a problem anymore with online learning. Although some programs require you to attend online lectures at certain times, these lectures are usually archived so you can watch them later.
Because online learning is more flexible than classroom learning, students can work through the material at their own pace. Those who need more time to understand a concept can take it. Those who want to work faster can do so.
The flexibility of schedule is also a big advantage for those who work full time or have childcare responsibilities that would interfere with regular college attendance. Imagine a single mother whose caregiver cancels classes at the last minute, having no luck with the traditional study. With online study, she can still attend classes and have peace of mind that her child will be well taken care of.
7. The online classroom is good preparation for a changing workforce
Becoming familiar with technology is an excellent side benefit of online education.
As technology advances, the workforce is becoming more dispersed. Whether you’re working with someone on the other side of the state or the other side of the world, if you’re familiar with technology for video conferencing, messaging, information aggregation, and collaboration, you’ll likely need these skills.
8. Online learning is getting a good reputation
Academics have recognized the value of online education for some time. A 2012 Babson/College Board survey found that 77% of higher education leaders believe online education is as good, if not better than physical courses.
The message is getting through to employers as well. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report shows that more and more hiring managers recognize the value of online degrees, as long as they come from properly accredited institutions.
Our predictions for the future of online degrees
The popularity of online courses will grow as costs drop (thanks to better technology) and the quality of education evolves and improves. Over the next generation, online learning will become more of a norm than a novelty.