Although online education is a relatively recent development, it facilitates learning among students more effectively than the conventional face-to-face classroom. In Simon Lei and Rajeev Gupta’s College Distance Education Courses: Evaluating Benefits and Costs From Institutional, Faculty, and Students’ Perspective article, the provision of tertiary education outside the traditional school setting has revolutionized educational practices. Distance learning is a technology-based model of learning in which the students are outside the typical classroom. Initially, web-based learning and teaching were developed for learners who could not physically attend school for various reasons, including geographical, medical, social, or financial. Online education has gained tremendous popularity among learners due to its inherent benefits, such as the ability to transcend academic disciplines and demographic backgrounds, unlimited access to course materials, flexibility, and freedom. However, unaffordability of modern computer technologies, delayed feedbacks from instructors and peers, and the absence of direct assistance from tutors impede the adoption and the effectiveness of web-based learning. Despite the associated challenges and high costs, online schooling is ideal for students since it allows more flexibility, independence, and unlimited access to diverse course resources than the traditional classroom environment.
In recent years, the popularity of distance learning among students has risen exponentially due to the numerous benefits it provides to students. Among the prominent advantages of this mode of education is the freedom and flexibility it offers to learners. Students determine how they will assign their time to various activities to suit their needs. The freedom and flexibility are critical since they enabled me to undertake coursework despite my busy schedule as a full-time employee. This implies that computer-aided education allows people to simultaneously continue their studies without compromising other engagements, such as employment or family obligations. Lei and Gupta contend that learners can manage their “coursework and study time in the evenings and on weekends” while still serving as full-time workers (623). Since students in tertiary institutions require a steady flow of income and career advancement, distance learning’s inherent versatility and flexibility support the simultaneous pursuit of education without imperiling jobs or families.
Additionally, students undertaking distance education do not incur commuting and parking costs which are unavoidable in the traditional physical campus attendance. Studying online reduces or eliminates transportation expenditures, including the “daily or weekly commuting and parking hassles when coming to the campus” (Lei and Gupta 623). Further, the time spent by students when commuting to and from campus is minimized and can be devoted to other productive activities. This is a critically significant benefit to me since it translates to additional savings and reduced exposure to financial strains. Moreover, I no longer have to worry about missing class sessions and could use the saved hours to study or work overtime. Thus, distance education reduces transportation costs and time associated with conventional classrooms, allowing students to make extra savings and minimize their exposure to financial strain.
Web-based learning and teaching allow students easy and unlimited access to course contents from any location with an internet connection. Distance education transcends geographical boundaries and learners can attend online class sessions from anywhere in the world. Additionally, course materials can be recorded, archived, and instantly shared across various platforms, providing students with unrestricted access and retrieval abilities to such learning resources at any time. For instance, I easily and conveniently refer to previous lecture notes and web pages and fully participate in online classes from the comfort of my home or workplace. Lei and Gupta note that “all course materials are uploaded on a campus-wide webpage, so that all students officially enrolled in the course have constant access” (623). This feature is particularly beneficial and convenient for learners who may need to reread the content or take additional time reflecting on the provided materials.
Students who attend physical classrooms are more exposed to disruptions from their peers than those enrolled in online learning. Distractions in the conventional school environment from class clowns can derail learners’ concentration and adversely affect their eventual academic outcomes. While undertaking web-based learning, I do not have to worry about peers engaging in improper or unruly conduct, including distractive physical appearances, such as inappropriate attire. Online class sessions eliminate the possibility of such behaviors, enhancing the students’ level of focus and concentration due to limited face-to-face interactions. For instance, Lei and Gupta assert that “class clowns acting up in class” can disrupt the classroom environment with their offensive behaviors, which can adversely impact school grades (623). Therefore, distance education positively influences the learners’ focus and attention by eliminating peer disturbances, which impede the ordinary course of classroom activity.
Further, online education facilitates the development of practical skills among students. Succeeding in online learning is anchored on the learner’s self-discipline, responsibility, and ability to manage their time competently. Although studying online imparts the relevant educational competencies, I have established and enhanced my time management skills. For instance, in the absence of an instructor keeping me focused on meeting strict assignment deadlines, I have had to carefully plan my time and exercise self-discipline to ensure I meet submission targets. Additionally, I have acquired and polished critical computer literacy and application skills, including file management, website navigation, and e-mail use, which are highly valuable in the modern work environment. According to Lei and Gupta, students undertaking online courses sharpen their time management and computer skills, which are critical to both academic and professional success (624). Therefore, distance learning equips learners with more useful competencies and abilities than students in the traditional classroom setting.
Moreover, distance learning immensely benefits learners with special needs, such as physical and learning disabilities. Integrating technology in education helps break the barriers which impede people with physical impairments or other challenges from attending in-person class sessions. For instance, a student with hearing difficulties cannot effectively learn in the conventional classroom and would need to study in a relatively quiet environment and integrate multimedia elements such as transcripts and captions. Providing high-quality educational materials through online platforms ensures that students with special needs can undertake academic courses and learn at their pace conveniently. Notably, the traditional classroom setting would require students to travel regularly to school, move around the campus, or keep asking the instructor to clarify missed points. This implies that distance education facilitates easier knowledge acquisition process compared to the face-to-face classroom environment.
Physical classroom attendance increases student’s susceptibility to more severe levels of culture shocks than online sessions. Notably, higher educational institutions are populated by people from diverse backgrounds, and the resultant disparities in classroom behavior due to ethnic and cultural differences may hamper effective learning. Dialectical barriers, perceptions about privacy, and divergences on collective and individual accomplishments limit classroom discussion and the uninhibited exchange of views (Lei and Gupta 624). Student from cultures which prioritized independence and individualism could not fully and effectively participate in our consultative deliberations due to their customs and lifestyles. These ethnocultural disparities significantly limited the effectiveness of a typical classroom and interactions with my peers compared to distance learning. For instance, “Mexicans, Native Americans, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders tend to believe in group achievements rather than individualistic accomplishments” (Lei and Gupta 624). Conversely, Hawaiians and Native Americans prioritize privacy and personal achievements. This implies that Mexican and Hawaiian are significantly incompatible within the conventional classroom scope, which requires collaboration, consultation, and discussion. Therefore, online education eliminates these ethnic and cultural differences, making learning more effective than face-to-face schooling.
Conclusively, although effective online learning requires integrating expensive modern computer technologies, it provides the students with greater flexibility, independence, and unlimited access to course material than the conventional face-to-face classroom. Learners undertaking various web-based courses have the power and freedom to determine how they will allocate their time to various activities to suit their specific needs. Additionally, distance education eliminates or significantly reduces the learner’s transportation costs from the daily or weekly travels, allowing the students to make financial savings and potentially avoid debts. Moreover, learners acquire and enhance critically important professional skills, such as self-motivation, time management, and responsibility which are vital in the modern work environment. Distance education also helps students with physical or learning disabilities study at their pace through appropriate mediums, such as transcribed or captioned videos for the hearing-impaired learners. Therefore, the benefits of online learning to students outweigh the various drawbacks associated with this mode of learning.
Lei, Simon. A., and Gupta, Rajeev. K. “College distance education courses: evaluating benefits and costs from institutional, faculty and students’ perspectives.” Education, 130.4 (2010): 616–631.