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Comparison of Online vs Traditional Classes

written by: Daniel Brecht•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 5/17/2011

Presently, more and more schools are offering students online classes. They compare favorably with the traditional classroom teaching. But why do students take virtual instead of live, local classes? One advantage is more convenient times, but there are many more to consider.

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    It is a fact that more and more institutions of higher education are offering students the option of online learning. Presently, there has been a steady increase in the enrollment of students for varying distance education programs and e-learning. A 2010 research of the Sloan Consortium,in fact, has revealed that more than 5.6 millions students enrolled in at least one distance education course in the Fall 2009 term: more than one million students above the previous year numbers. Furthermore, according to the study, 30% of students are enrolled at least in one online course; the growth of enrollments in online classes has reached 21% compared to a 2% increase in the enrollments in traditional classes. Why are students choosing to take online classes instead of on-ground classes? Is it merely because they are more convenient or because they are more effective in the long run?

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    Increased Effectiveness?

    Online classes are seen just as effective as classroom teaching methods. According to the 2010 Sloan Consortium research, over 75% of academic leaders in public institutions believe that distance education is as good or even better than traditional classroom instruction. There are many e-learning technologies or platforms like simulations, electronic study materials or e-books, mobiles, blogs, wikis and podcasting involved with teaching online classes. Educationists are at times bewildered which technology is the most appropriate to effectively meet the needs of online teaching and learning.

    From the other point of view, many online students who are either less self-disciplined or slow learners, are finding online classes monotonous and dropping out. These types of students require a teacher to be personally and physically present to enforce discipline and to engage in interactive classroom sessions. 

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    Quality and Satisfaction Concerns

    It is reported that online education is becoming an important long-term strategy for many institutions of higher learning. Given the increasing number of students who take online classes instead of on-ground classes, the plethora of online technologies available for teaching and the potential for innovation, it is imperative that educationists begin to address the problem of providing quality online programs.

    The ability of the student to grasp what is taught, the degree of learning satisfaction the student derives and the student’s test scores are indeed the yardsticks to measure the quality of online education. Several research studies on student satisfaction in online courses have reported mixed results.

    Student-to-teacher as well as teacher-to-student interaction are key factors in determining the quality and effectiveness of online classes. Teachers and schools must ensure that the instructional quality of online classes compares favorably with classroom ones; otherwise, online education may have a dismal future.

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    Mixed Reactions and Opinion

    Critics of online education continue to suspect the findings and validity of research studies that have compared online teaching with interactive on-ground instruction. The concerns expressed by the antagonists are based on the obvious limitations of online instructional technology - such as lack of face-to-face interaction and absence of immediate feedback and a perceived inability to address the learning needs of individual students.

    While conceding there are limitations to online teaching and learning, protagonists of online education contend it is possible to devise suitable instructional strategies to more effectively deliver online instruction. In this regard, Blended Learning is one such fruitful attempt. Blended learning is a system of learning which combines online teaching offerings with face-to-face interactions.

    So, why do students take online classes instead of on-ground classes? In summing up, researchers have used extensive methodologies to know student perceptions of online courses and found that most students are immensely happy with the online experience and expressed an interest in taking more online courses in the future. The convenience of being able to choose any courses at any time and of being able to study from home decides in favor of this learning method.

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    Class Differences. Online Education in the United States, 2010. Published by the Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from

    Digital Learning Versus Classroom Education. Retrieved from

    Online vs. classroom: Who’s learning more? Retrieved from