Pin Me

Online Education vs. Traditional Education: Which is Right for You?

written by: Melinda F.•edited by: Sylvia Cochran•updated: 6/9/2009

What obstacles do students face that help determine whether an online education vs. traditional education is best? Does privilege favor the latter over the former? This article looks at such factors as employment, family responsibilities, physical impairment, and personality type when deciding.

  • slide 1 of 3

    Some students are prepped from birth to reach for the stars - educationally speaking. By high school they are dreaming of living in a dorm and the freedom it entails, knowing their parents are ready and willing to foot the bill for a brick and mortar campus away from home. Barring a catastrophe, these students know the type education they want. Their only challenge is choosing which traditional campus to attend.

    You, on the other hand, face obstacles barring such a path. Your parents are unable to pay your college tuition, yet you still dream of that bachelor's degree. You, too, want to reach for the stars, or perhaps a star. What should you do? For starters, keep taking those college prep courses even though it appears the cards are stacked against you. Yes, the work force awaits you as a private when you wish to enter as a lieutenant. But there is hope. An online degree may be just the thing to move you from the former to the latter, making your dream come true.

    Everyone has obstacles to overcome, even those born with a silver spoon in their mouths. So don't look at how easy others may have it. Everyone, rich or poor, faces his or her own challenges, although the areas or degree of challenge may differ. Face your own reality and work around your obstacles.

    What are some obstacles when it comes to achieving a higher education? Let me list a few:

    1. You completed high school and now work an eight to five job.
    2. You have dependent children to provide and care for.
    3. You need to be home daily to care for your elderly parents.
    4. You are physically handicapped.
    5. You work best alone and feel hampered by too much social interaction.
    6. You don't work best alone, but you have no more commute time to spare.

  • slide 2 of 3

    Obstacles to Gaining a Higher Education

    1) You are now in the work force. What are your options? Many nearby traditional colleges or universities offer evening and weekend classes. However, the degrees offered during these time slots are limited. Check into it. The good news about weekend colleges is that classes usually meet every other weekend, so you still have time for a social life. Evening and weekend classes work well for a single working adult. And it gives you greater opportunity to meet that special someone while earning your degree in the process. But a single working adult also has the option of getting a distance learning degree where the virtual classroom is open 24/7. Be careful in your selection: there may be requirements for meeting on the physical campus from time to time. Do the research (see Online College Degree: How Do You Choose? by Elizabeth Porter) for the importance of online degree location.

    2) Divided loyalties: You have dependent children to provide and care for. It can be pretty hectic getting children to and from school, seeing to their meals, homework, playtime, bedtime routines, – all after working a part-time or full-time job. If you have a good support network – such as family, relatives, friends - to help care for your dependent children, a traditional setting may still be workable. Some traditional colleges offer part-time coursework toward a degree. Others offer accelerated full-time classes. Ease yourself into it if you can. Once the children are in school full-time, you can devote even more time to it. Yes, it takes sacrifice. You may not have much leisure time. But a degree need not take forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

    If you do not work outside the home, perhaps getting out of the house to be with adults is paramount. At home you feel stifled, closed in. In such a case, the online education vs. traditional education debate does not come down in favor of online learning. Others, on the other hand, are content at home or in the yard with your hobbies and areas of interests. You enjoy some of the following: cooking, gardening, interior design, reading, writing, painting, crafts, farming, home repair and maintenance, as well as puzzles. So outside of your educational studies towards a profession, your support network of family and friends is enough of a social network for you personally. For you, online learning is definitely the way to go.

    3) On call and all cooped up. You need to be in your home on a regular basis to care for your elderly parents. Perhaps you have found yourself selected by your siblings (or in spite of them by their non-involvement) to be the major help to your elderly parents. More and more of your aging parents’ time is taken up by doctors’ visits and you need to get them there. You also need to oversee their physical care and dietary needs in the home, and any emergency needs should they arise. You want to be there for them. But you also want a life of your own. You have been putting your dream on hold for some time now. Don’t let it die. If you have a good support network to help care for your elderly parents, a traditional setting may still be workable. But if not, a distance learning degree permits you to think of others without neglecting yourself.

    4) You are physically handicapped. Depending upon the type of physical handicap and the degree of impairment, traditional learning may not pose a significant problem. You may want the physical classroom challenge to be sure that if you can make it there, you can make it in the professions. Others more physically challenged may require considerable time getting ready to venture outdoors. They may find it less stressful to study and work from home toward an online degree and save outdoor activities for social functions.

    5) You work best alone and feel hampered with too much social interaction Online learning may be best suited for those who draw their strength from being alone rather than from a group. This type of student does not require a lot of supervision, provided s/he is well disciplined. But it may not be good for the shy and withdrawn student, as this may shield them even more from venturing out into the world upon graduation. They need to face their fears. Attending a traditional college or university would better serve them.

    6) You don’t work well alone, but you don’t have any more commute time. Some of you, who work full time, thrive best in group settings, but do not have a significant support network to help care for your dependents. If you want the degree, you have a tough hill to climb. But it’s not impossible. You need to draw your strength from the work place and learn to become what you normally are not – someone who works best alone, when it comes to your schooling. “But I’m an extravert,” you exclaim. Or, “I’m hyperactive!” Excuses! Excuses! It’s amazing what you can do if you have no other option. Just do it. Do all those things that people, who are alone and thrive, do.

    Do you want to succeed? Will an online degree get you where you want to be professionally? Then look at it as temporary house confinement. The good thing is, you are the one who put yourself there - temporarily. You have set a goal. Your self-imposed prison sentence will last two to four years. But you get two days off a week for good behavior – thanks to those good study habits you developed. And you can set your computer right next to your treadmill to run off that excess physical energy. So, yes, count the cost before you enter your cell, but know that there is hope. You know the release date. And your online degree, although not from a traditional classroom, should not be a detriment provided it is from an accredited online degree program. See Top 10 Benefits of Distance Education by Laurie Patsalides to see how challenges can benefit.

  • slide 3 of 3

    Mix It Up!

    For those of you who like some of the benefits of each type of learning discussed in the online education vs. traditional education discussion, try mixing it up! Online learning may be a good idea for an interim period of time; say for acquiring an associate or bachelor’s degree. Then attend a physical classroom to reach for that master’s degree necessary for your type job. Or perhaps you should turn this around: earn a bachelor’s degree from a traditional college and an online master degree program to complete your education. Some colleges and universities offer both within your selected degree program: You may only have to commute half the time and you now have the best of both worlds.

    For more information on the differences between online learning to learning in a classroom, check out the following articles by Akili Amina: Online Learning vs.Traditional Learning and Compare Learning Online to Learning in a Classroom.