The higher education system is one of the most prevalent and important institutions in the developed world, being the means by which individuals acquire the certification and knowledge necessary to find work and advance their knowledge of the world. The face of education is changing with the advent of the Internet - the availability of constant contact with others and access to incredible amounts of information has led to the advent of online education . Ever since its inception, the goal of online education has been to provide those without the time or money to attend physical universities the chance to continue their education and learn new skills and subjects. However, what would the impacts of an online education be, considering the potential lack of accountability and the lower chance that the student actually acquires this new knowledge using such a method? Has this new avenue for education created a faster, more efficient way to get a degree and learn new things? Conversely, does the advent of online education simply create shortcuts for companies to make money effectively selling degrees to those who do not necessarily deserve them? These questions are more lie at the heart of my research, and are some of the most important reasons to study this increasingly prevalent aspect of education. If people are to continue pursing online campuses and degrees earned over the Internet, the efficacy and applicability of such a path has to be studied in order to see if it is really worth it. Online-only education, while possessing its own unique merits, as well as a positive return on investment, does not objectively provide as high quality an education as one which is campus-based.
Definitions Noble states that distance education, or online education, can be defined as courses or curriculum that is delivered to students through the Internet, using various media, in lieu of a physical education. Online education is typically distributed through traditional universities, which carry an online component, or private companies that offer online degrees and courses for a fee (Lorenzo & Moore). These classes can be taken anywhere the student has access to an Internet connection, including the comfort of their home. Conversely, traditional or campus-based education is defined as courses conducted physically, at a college campus or other designated institute for learning (Volery & Lord 219). Assignments are handed out physically, or performed on computers linked together at a physical site. For the barest definition of traditional classes or education, this project uses any context in which students meet a teacher in a designated room on scheduled times to learn.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Online and Campus-Based Education Online education is said to carry many different advantages and disadvantages. Online education permits classes to reach a greater number of students, allowing for larger class sizes (Volery & Lord 220). Furthermore, the lack of strictly set class times and hours allows for online students to learn at a slightly more relaxed pace, with more resources immediately available to them (Lorenzo & Moore). Disadvantages include the potential for communication to be lost without a physical communication with the instructor, as well as scheduling and motivation issues due to the looser structure of the curriculum (Noble). Campus-based education provides a more direct link between instructor and student, so that instantaneous assessment of ability and comprehension can be made (Garrison). Disadvantages include higher costs and stricter time schedules for a student, which may prevent individuals with jobs, low income or other responsibilities from having the availability to participate in college courses (Carr-Chellmen & Duchastel 229).
Quality of Online vs. Campus-Based Education (Student Participation/Performance)
In this study, several comparisons of traditional vs. online courses were examined and evaluated in terms of their findings. One of the most prevalent trends was that, in studies comparing each type of course in similar or identical subjects, researchers saw no measurable difference in student performance between traditional and online courses (Bullen; Gagne & Shepherd; Steinweg et al.; Mehlenbacher et al.). However, some instances actually found some improved student attitudes towards subjects, including statistics, in online courses (Steinweg et al.). There were few to no studies that concluded a cumulative increase in student performance, but the notion that there was no difference in student performance among nearly all of the studies examined was intriguing.
With the advent of the Internet, the convenience and ubiquity it brings has made online education an increasingly appealing option to those who wish to pursue higher education. However, given concerns of lack of face-to-face instruction and the interests of private companies willing to easily sell cost-effective education to others, the efficacy and quality of online education has been called into question. The purpose of this project was to determine whether or not an online education provides an insufficient quality of education when compared to campus-based education. The definition of online education, the advantages and disadvantages of both online and campus-based education, and the quality education graduates receive in both types of education were explored. In terms of the quality of education that is received with an online course as compared to a traditional campus based course, the effectiveness of both methods were examined along multiple subjects (e.g. special education, business statistics, technical writing). In most, if not all cases, these case studies offered little to no measurable difference between online courses and traditional courses in terms of effectiveness and student participation. If anything, student attitudes and participation increased with online courses, due to the need for personal motivation and the flexibility of time offered by those courses. With this in mind, it is concluded that participating in online courses offers little to no loss or net gain in quality of education when compared to traditional classes. These findings carry many implications for the future of online and distance education as compared to traditional courses. Given these conclusions, it is reasonable to assume that someone who would normally not have the means to go to a physical college can receive a comparable education online. There are many factors at stake that involve a quality education regardless of the venue, such as teacher participation and student involvement. If these factors are successfully addressed, an equivalent quality education through an online course of some kind is entirely possible.
The increasing prevalence of online courses has called into question the effectiveness of so-called "degree mills" and the actual applicability of a degree gained from an online university. Many opponents feel as though the distance between instructor and student divorces each party from investment in communication and motivation to pursue a quality education. However, according to the findings of this project, and the case studies performed and observed by previous researchers, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no measurable difference between an online course and a traditional one in terms of quality. Provided the right teacher and students are placed together, these learners receive just as good an education online as others do on a campus.
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