I have had the opportunity to attend graduate level classes in both a traditional setting and an online school. I also teach at the college level both in person and online. There are definite differences between the two different styles. It takes a different type of dedication and discipline to be successful in a distance setting that is not always seen in the traditional classroom. I have had students excel in the online environment because they can work at their own pace and others fail miserably due to not dedicating enough time to studying and understanding the material. Students in online programs are required to participate in discussions over the assigned material. They have to log in every week and answer the instructor’s questions or risk having their grades suffer. This is not always the case in a face-to-face situation where students can slide by not going to class or by not participating in discussions but still do well on the exams.
As a student, though I loved my lectures and face-to-face contact with my instructors, I often felt that I was simply a face in a large classroom and even though I was writing numerous papers and a graduate thesis, my writing skills were still sub-par. When I went back to school for a second Master’s degree, I chose an online option because I simply did not have the time to go to class, work full-time, and raise a child. I found that having to post every week, to analyze the material in deeper ways than I was required to in a traditional setting, and reading the writing of my classmates helped me improve in more ways than I can count.
There is difficulty in some online settings if the instructor does not take the teaching of online classes as seriously as they do their face-to-face lectures and students. Online courses do require a daily presence of the instructor, even if it is just to check and respond to emails as quickly as possible. Students know when an instructor has not placed them in a position of high priority and their work will reflect that. This new medium of teaching over the internet takes dedication and responsibility on both the part of the instructor and the student. It also appears that this is the direction that learning is heading. Though there will always be traditional educational settings, more and more people are looking for ways to further their education in ways that will accommodate their careers and families. Adults are returning to the education system in droves in an attempt to educate themselves, to update their skills and to enter into new careers. Online education and distance learning is one of the best ways to provide this training.