Are Online Courses Better Than Traditional Classroom Courses?

Updated  April 13, 2016 |
Are Online Courses Better Than Traditional Classroom Courses?
In today's age of modern technology, a large portion of education occurs online. But are online courses better than classroom courses? What are the differences?

Community colleges offer a wide array of benefits over traditional colleges and universities. Not only to community colleges appeal to a large variety of students, but they cater to different learning styles as well with the availability of online courses as well as traditional classroom courses. But how do online courses really compare?

How Prevalent is Online Learning?

According to a 2014 survey, approximately 46% of college students are taking at least one online course and it is estimated that at least half of all college classes will be offered online by 2019. Not only is online learning a benefit for community college students, but large corporations are also starting to use e-learning as a training method. Even graduate students are taking advantage of online options to pursue their degrees. According to an article published by U.S. News, of an estimated 2.9 million graduate students in the United States, more than 20% of them study exclusively online – that number of closer to 11% for undergraduates. Online learning is increasing in popularity each year and the disparity in quality between the two options grows ever smaller. In fact, many students have admitted that they do not see a significant difference in the quality or depth of education they received through online courses and that they received from traditional classroom courses.

What Benefits do Online Courses Offer Students?

Some students simply learn better when they have time to peruse the material themselves outside of a classroom environment. This is just one of the many benefits that online courses have to offer. Additional benefits for online courses are listed below:

More variety and choices – One of the greatest benefits of online courses is the potential for greater variety for students. Traditional universities are limited by the availability of their faculty to provide certain classes in certain time slots. With online courses, professors can teach from anywhere at any time – they can even design the entire course ahead of time and simply post it online for students to access at their convenience. Many community colleges hire adjunct faculty to teach online classes so the availability of options is not limited by the college staff. Students who want to take classes online have a nearly unlimited array of options to choose from. 

Greater flexibility – Online courses are presented in a very different way from traditional classroom courses. In many cases, teachers for online courses prepare their weekly teaching material and then make it available to students online. Students then have the flexibility to access and work through materials at their own pace and in accordance with their own schedule. This allows students to pursue a degree while also meeting commitments for family and work.

Multimedia options – One of the greatest benefits of online classes is that course material can be presented in a number of different ways. Though the course may not take place in a traditional lecture setting, the professor can still record a video of an actual lecture and make it available to students. The professor can also provide students with access to supplementary resources like online videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, e-books, and more. It is possible to use or reference these resources in a physical classroom setting but with an online course, all of these resources can be made available in a single location for easy access.

Learn at your own pace – Not only do students learn in different ways, but they learn at different paces as well. Taking a course in a traditional classroom setting forces the student to follow along a set pathway for learning – homework assignments are due on a certain day, tests are scheduled ahead of time, and the course has a set end date. For students who learn at a slower pace, the traditional classroom setting might not provide them with enough time to gain a complete understanding of the course material. With an online class, not only can you learn at your own pace but you can access and incorporate other reference materials to supplement your learning as you gain mastery over the subject.

Reduced costs – One of the main reasons students choose community college over traditional colleges and universities is that community college is usually much cheaper. Taking courses online may give you an opportunity to save even more money because you do not have to physically travel to the classroom and you do not need to live on or near campus. Some online courses require the purchase of textbooks, but many online professors create their own course materials that they make available to students online. If you have a laptop you can take advantage of free internet access at a local coffee shop which will save you even more money, if you want to.

Comfortable learning environment – Another benefit of taking classes online that may seem a little silly to some is the fact that students can have complete control over the environment in which they learn. Traditional universities require students to sit in large lecture halls or crowded classrooms for instruction. With online classes, you can learn from any place that has an internet connection – you can even learn in your pajamas while lying in bed! For many students, the ability to learn from home is incredibly important and a big factor in their decision when deciding between community college and a traditional university.

These are just a few of the many benefits associated with online learning. Keep in mind that different community colleges follow different structures for their online courses, so familiarize yourself with the offerings at your school before you choose between online and classroom learning. Take advantage of your academic advisor to help you determine which classes might best suit your learning style while also meeting your degree requirements.

What are the Challenges of Online Classes?

Though online courses offer a great many benefits, they are not right for every student. One of the main challenges with online coursework is that it requires a great deal of self-discipline for the student. Because the coursework is available online the student can choose when to access it and they have the flexibility to work through it at their own pace. This is great for many students but some students prefer the structure of a classroom course where materials are presented in a traditional lecture format. Quizzes, projects, and homework assignments have set due dates which forces the student to work within a set timeframe. For students who have trouble motivating themselves, this may be a better option than the freedom of an online course.

Not only do online classes require a great deal of self-discipline, but they often result in reduced social interaction. The actual structure of an online course varies from one institution to another and among different professors, of course. Some professors require online students to interact with each other in forums and online discussions. Even so, this isn’t quite the same as the social interaction you would have with other students in a physical classroom setting. Some students simply learn better in a collaborative setting than they do on their own.

As is true for classroom courses, every online course is different depending on the school and the professor. The truth of the matter is that there is no simple answer to the question, “are online courses better than traditional classroom courses”. Each student learns in a unique and individual way, so what works for one student might not be effective for another. Regardless what learning style suits you best, you can find a community college program that will fit your needs.


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