Access to education, anytime, anywhere – this is what online learning promises. The start of the internet and the computer era has given birth to this new form of education. Now, students can complete a program, course, or even a degree from any location, even at the comfort of their own homes, as long as they have online access and right resources. This is why some started to adopt online learning technologies, most commonly known as learning management systems or LMS, such as TopClass and WebCT (Coates, 2007, p. 123). Different educational institutions offering campus-based learning, such as the Arizona State University, the Colorado States University, and the Sullivan University, have also recognized the benefits of offering this kind of education to students. They now offer not just campus-based degrees but also different courses and degree programs online.
According to Allen and Seaman, around 32% of the 21 million college students were taking online course in 2011 (as cited in Aslain & Clinefelter, 2013, p. 3). Aside from this, Eduventures reports that in the same year, there are around 3 million students that were taking full online programs (as cited in Aslain & Clinefelter, 2013, p. 3). This shows how students, both young and old, are embracing online learning as another option to gain more knowledge and advancement in the field of academics. Online learning, according to Hiltz and Turoff, is a new and improved version of distance learning (as cited in Moore, Dickson-Deane, & Galyen, 2010, p. 129). With a history spanning for around two centuries, Moore, Deane, and Galyen (2010) state that distance learning “describes the effort of providing access to learning for those who are geographically distant (p. 129). Of course, not everyone finds online education as a good replacement to the campus-based education that most people are accustomed to. However, if one would evaluate and assess the benefits and advantages that online learning provides, it may even be proven to be a better choice. This is because online education costs less, offers more flexibility in terms of schedule and location, can help overcome cultural or religious barriers, promotes good academic performance, and opens more career opportunities.
First of all, online education costs less than the traditional education in a classroom setting. It is a known fact that college education is expensive, and the sad truth is that it is becoming even more expensive through the years. According to Odland (2012), “the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%” since 1985 but a “typical family income increased by 147%” only since 1982. This means that the increase in income is way below the increase in college tuition cost, making it even more difficult to obtain a degree. On the lighter side of things, there’s online education that allows students to get courses or even full degree program at a lesser price. There are private schools that offer less cost per credit for online undergraduate education (Haynie, 2013). Some argue that online education isn’t really cheap and at times, may costs almost the same as campus-based education. However, even if the cost between traditional and online courses reaches the same level for some institutions, there will still be less expense in terms of gas, parking, and daily allowance. Also, students whose homes are far from universities or colleges no longer need to relocate and spend for rental expenses because they can take classes from their homes. This creates a huge savings in the end. For instance, in a study conducted by Aslanian and Clinefelter (2013), 13% of students who were previously in classroom-based courses did not finish their degree because they decided to take online courses instead to cut back on other associated expenses, like transportation cost and child care cost for those who have kids to look after while studying (p. 25). The financial aspect seems to be a major factor for most students as they tend to focus on tuition cost and other fees when they search for institutional websites (Aslanian & Clinefelter, 2013, pg. 26). With this consideration, students may find online education as a better option as it requires lesser cost that will help minimize their financial burden.
In addition, online education offers more flexibility for students. Family or personal obligations together with work schedule are some of the usual factors that students consider when deciding whether they can take and finish a college degree. Based on the facts presented by the CollegeAtlas.org (2015), 60% of online students are full-time employees. This means that majority of the students taking online courses do so on top of their fixed “working hours” so they need access to education that will allow them to study on their own time. Clearly, the flexibility that online education offers makes it a better option than its traditional counterpart. These working students will be able to organize and schedule their work and school tasks based on their deemed level of priorities. According to a study by Aslain and Clinefelter (2013), 32% of their research population thinks that the greatest advantage to online education is the way it provides students the ability to study anytime and anywhere while 17% believes that it provides flexibility for students to study around obligations relating to their work (p. 23). This is not all. The flexibility of online learning is also said to be beneficial for students facing mental challenges, like those who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (2015), ASD is “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges” characterized by having trouble establishing connection with peers, having trouble understanding others’ feelings, not knowing how to talk or play with others, having unusual reactions to different smells, sound, look, or feel, and many other behaviors that are not normal. In other words, students with ASD have several characteristics that make it even more challenging for them to attend the traditional classroom education. As Sabella and Hart (2014) states, “students with ASD often have trouble acting in ways that are socially acceptable because they are not always able to recognize the needs of others” and they “often have difficulty when they must take multiple components, like lecture, a textbook chapter, and a worksheet, and make them all gel to understand a concept” (p. 49). Because online education can be taken anytime, students with ASD will be able to learn at their own phase. Outside stimuli that may cause distractions and anxiety are also minimized. Also, other students with mental and physical disabilities, who find attending campus rather difficult, may be more comfortable with online courses. Clearly, online education and the flexibility that it offers are perfect for different students having different needs.
Moreover, it offers a way to overcome certain cultural and religious barriers that hinders the achievement of higher education. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, most universities, except for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, implements gender segregation (Alturise & Alojaiman, 2013). This means that both males and females cannot be taught in the same campus. Females are typically required to ask permission from their male guardian before they are allowed to attend school as part of the Islamic culture. This makes online courses a good option because they can have access to education without having to worry about gender segregation. Aside from this, students from other countries who wish to learn English for career advancement may find online courses really beneficial. For example, a Xinhua report states that there are more that 300 million Chinese people, or about a quarter of China’s population, have studied the English language (as cited in “A quarter of chinese, 2006). It is understandable that not all non-English students will learn the language at the same phase. Some students will learn faster than the other, and this growing interest may be substantially supported by the nature of online education. Even if they still opt to take face-to-face education to experience a more interactive learning of the English language, taking online courses beforehand will definitely give them an advantage because they will already be familiar with the basics, such vocabulary and grammar. In the end, no matter what culture or religion one has, the neutral environment that most online education offers proves to be an advantage when aiming to get higher education.
Also, academic performance is enhanced through online courses. Previously, a number of studies suggest that there is not much difference in terms of the academic performance of students who are taking face-to-face courses compared to those who are taking online courses. However, the U.S. Department of Education reports in 2010 that those students who are taking full or partial online courses perform better than their counterparts who are taking courses in the traditional classroom (as cited in “ Research on the Effectiveness,” 2011, p.1). Another study provided the same conclusion. Based on a data from around 15,000 students, a study conducted by Schachar and Neumann revealed that students who are engaged in distance education performs better academically than students engaged in traditional courses (as cited in “Research on the Effectiveness,” 2011, p.2). Online education, as mentioned earlier, is a form of distance education. If one would analyze, there are lesser distractions and stress when learning online. First, the daily task of driving or taking any mode of transportation to go to campus is entirely taken out of the situation. Of course, having lesser expense would help lighten up financial burden that may be stressful to students. Extracurricular activities and the need to cope with peer pressure from co-students are also minimized. The student’s flexible schedule would also allow for some personal time for exercise and recreation.
Others may argue that online education, because of the lack of student interaction with an instructor and other students, decreases student engagement. However, some studies prove otherwise. According Shea, Stone, and Delahunty (2015), “learner engagement can be manifested in the development of critical thinking skills, higher grades and a general embracing of learning by taking responsibility and actions to achieve intrinsically motivated goals” (p. 43). The facts that those who are taking online courses show better performance, as discussed in the previous paragraph, is a good manifestation of their level of engagement to the academic work and responsibilities that they hold. In fact, some of the participants in the study conducted by Shea and her colleagues, having relationships with other program participants adds burden to their online studies (p.54). This means that having no social interaction with peers while taking online course, somehow, does not negatively affect student engagement.
Lastly, taking online courses opens more career opportunities. For instance, among the respondents of the study conducted by Aslain and Clinefelter in 2013, 44% reported an improvement in career by getting their first job, having a full-time job, or getting a new one while 45 % were given raises in terms of salary and 36% were able to get promoted (p.7). Also, there are a number of workers who, despite having stable jobs, still opt to take online courses as a way to get credits or certifications that will help give them the edge in their field of work. Many employers value workers who have competent and up-to-date skills and knowledge, but of course, education takes time and money. Taking online course, as previously discussed, costs less and is more flexible, which make it a good option for employees wanting to boost their career. According to Rich Thompson, the chief human resources officer of a staffing company called Adecco Group North America, employees must continue to sharpen their skills (as cited in Haynie, 2014). This can be done by obtaining courses or certifications in online academic institutions.
Overall, online learning provides benefits that may not always be obtained through traditional campus-based education. Some online institutions offer less cost per-credit, which means students get to save some money. Also, they no longer have to spend for other costs, such as gas and parking. They can also eat from home which more often than not cost less than having to eat outside or buy from campus cafeteria. In addition, online education gives students more flexibility. It is a good venue for working students because they can choose their own schedule and study at their own phase. They also don’t need to relocate or travel to and from campus because they can take the online courses from any location as long as they have the needed access and resources. Because of the flexible environment, students with mental and physical disabilities may also find online education more comfortable than the campus-based education. It also offers a way to overcome any cultural and religious barriers, like what the women in Saudi Arabia are facing or the challenges that Chinese people encounter when trying to learn the English language. Despite the lack or minimal interaction with other students and teachers, online education still proves to be a better choice because studies reveal that online students perform better than campus-based students. It also helps boost one’s career and opens many other opportunities. Some students report that taking online course help them secure a job or promotion, and this is not surprising. Companies and employers would want their employees to have the current skills and knowledge that will benefit their business, so they put high value and reward those that seek out to develop themselves professionally through continuous learning via online education. With all these benefits and advantages, online education is no longer an option secondary to campus-based education. Instead, it’s another major option to obtain academic knowledge and proficiency in the most convenient, efficient, and effective way.
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