Friday, August 28, 2015

Traditional College Classes vs. Online College Classes

baby in dad's lap while he works at computer
Photo: anitapeppers

Online vs. Traditional Classes

These days, most colleges offer at least some online classes. Some have degree programs students can earn without ever walking into a classroom. Which is best: online classes or traditional classes?

All students who have attended the American K-12 school system have experience with traditional classes. In traditional classes, students must attend class at a specific location at a specific time, or be considered absent. The instructor lectures, students take notes, labs are completed and learning occurs.

As more colleges offer online classes, some students are left with the question, "How are online classes different than offline classes?"

The main differences are the role of the instructor, the traits required of students for success in the online environment as opposed to the traditional classroom, and access to course materials.

Unlike classroom lectures, materials in the online classroom are available for repeated viewings, giving online students a distinct advantage.

In online education, the instructor becomes a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage." Online students are dependent on phone, email, or chat rooms to interact with instructors.

College Classroom by
Instructors in traditional classrooms use a variety of techniques in the classroom to maintain student attention, and can quickly adapt the teaching methods if it is apparent that students are lost or confused.

Online instructors must glean these problems from lack of participation, poor grades, or in the best scenario, student requests for aid.

Asynchronous vs Synchronous Online Classes

Online students tend to think the instructor should be available whenever the student is ready to work. This usually is not true.
As both a student taking online classes, and as an instructor teaching online classes, I seldom was online at the same time as the rest of the class.
All my classes were asynchronous, which means that the material is posted online, and the student accesses it at times it is best or most convenient. Since instructors and learners in asynchronous online classes are seldom online at the same time, some students may feel overwhelmed or abandoned. 
Students taking synchronous online classes may not see a real advantage over regular classes, since the classes are still scheduled. The instructor often teaches over closed-circuit TV that is streamed to the Web, while students are at home or other place of their choice watching the lectures.
If the class is a long distance away from you, this might be a good choice. I have never taken or taught a synchronous online class, so I don't have the experience to determine whether it is actually a benefit as opposed to an on-campus course.
To help prevent this very real distress for online students, instructors should develop an acceptable method of communication for students to use in case of need. Some instructors will create virtual office hours set up in the course management software chat room. Others will specify a phone number and a time students are welcome to call for help.

Students will have to be more self-reliant when
taking online classes. Photo: Skyler McIntosh

Be Proactive If You Have Problems

Students in the online classroom must have a base level of computer literacy in order to access the class, download assignments and electronically submit assignments.
While students rely on the offline instructor to impart knowledge to them, instructors in the online classroom provide access to content, but the student is responsible to be an active participant by reading content, watching presentations and movies, and listening to audio files available in the online classroom.
If you have trouble with material in an online class, you as the student, must communicate your issues with the instructor so that he or she can try to address the problem. I have earned two degrees online. Only one time in the years I attended online did I have an instructor who was not willing to work with me when life happened.
In short, students must be more self-reliant and self-directed in the online class than in the offline class. Students who prefer to 'wing it' in class will not do well in online classes, since online courses require planning, time-management, self-discipline, and self-motivation. Without these traits, the online student will struggle to succeed.

Books You Might Find Helpful

 Have you taken online classes? What was your experience?

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