Nowadays we can buy online millions of different things – clothes, equipment, food etc. It even took me some time to remember which items you absolutely have to buy at a physical store. We like the convenience, flexibility and availability of options that come with online shopping. Most of the time we do not value things bought online less than things bought at a brick and mortar store.
However, there is a big exception – education. Online education provides the same benefits of flexibility, convenience and choices as online shopping, yet only 5% of Americans rate quality of online education as “excellent”. Honestly, I used to think of online education as inferior to a traditional classroom style. However, when I started thinking and researching online education, I realized that most of my stereotypes are far from true and that online classes can be just as good in terms of quality as traditional classes.
I think the stigma of online education can be blamed on lots of poor quality institutions that started offering online degrees just to gain profit since opening such institution is much easier than building a campus. And many people still associate online education with these “diploma mills”. Now lots of elite universities like Harvard and MIT offer online courses and degrees and actively incorporate online education in their curriculum.
Additionally, many have doubts about the employment opportunities that come with online education and how companies view such credentials. There are still around 25% of employers who refuse to accept an online degree. Yet these employers do not realize that in many ways online classes are more representative of work environment. I am currently taking an online class to prepare for CPA (an accounting credential). And it is challenging to keep up with my learning goals and force myself to study because I am used to traditional classes with schedules and regular deadlines.
Online classes develop self-discipline which is necessary to succeed in the real world, where often there is one big deadline and it is your responsibility to use your time appropriately.
Online education is also viewed as less personable since you do not have face-to-face interaction. Yet there are so many 300-people lectures and I doubt many people would call them personable. At the same time technology nowadays allows to have virtual face-to-face discussions so students can still develop communication and teamwork skills. As a business student, I have had my fair share of group projects, but during the past school year 90% of the time I never had an in-person meeting with my teammates to complete a project. Thanks to google docs and Skype/Facetime everything can be done virtually. So there are few benefits traditional education provides in this aspect. At the same time, online classes often expose you to a more diverse group of people since they reach broader population. My friend who took an online class last summer had people from 5 countries in her team. This added a time zone challenge to their communication another thing to be prepared for in a global world.
There are still many things that online education can not provide. You do not have access to student organizations and career fairs. It aslo does not does not provide a traditional college experience. The experience you get from living in a dorm, pulling an all-nighter at the library, getting late-night pizza with friends and lets be honest the parties.
That’s how you really make connections and build your network of lifelong friends. For me, that’s the true differentiator between online and traditional education. However, I still think online education is a great option when you need flexibility and are looking to expand your knowledge and it should not be viewed as inferior. I hope as it becomes more widespread and with the rapid development of communication technology, it will become have equal value with traditional classes and provide equal employment opportunities.