In the history of formal education, society has sought various ways of imparting knowledge to people. Traditional classroom learning had dominated the field until the 1980s, when online learning was introduced shortly after the advent of personal computers (Lederman 3). Online learning, also popularly known as e-learning, has been described as internet-based learning, whereby students interact with the course materials and tutors through the school portals. The introduction of online learning has revolutionized the education sector. Back in the 1980s, the use of computers for learning purposes was restricted to business executives and some institutions of higher learning. Technological advancements have facilitated access to online learning resources for almost every student around the globe. According to research, the percentage of students enrolled exclusively in online classes rose from 14.71% to 15.42% between 2016 and 2017 (Lederman 3). As e-learning grows, there are questions concerning its effectiveness and implications to the education sector. The question of whether online education is as good as face-to-face learning depends on the individuals’ needs, the field of education, and personal levels of motivation and discipline.
Arguments in support of online learning
E-learning has been appraised for being as good as traditional classroom settings and being more effective. Education is believed to be life-long attainment that remains an intangible asset in the life of the learner. In this case, learners are expected to be at the forefront, implying that teachers should not dictate but rather facilitate learning. Proponents of e-learning argue that while traditional classrooms encouraged passiveness on the part of the students, online classes allow learners to take charge of their coursework (Castro and Tumibay 1368). Teachers are more of facilitators of knowledge rather than deliverers of insight in the online environment. Learners interact more with their coursework when learning online than in a class. The interaction is crucial in the development of student’s critical thinking and analytical skills. Essentially, e-learning produces scholars who have mastered the art of knowledge acquisition, assimilation, and application in diverse ways. Therefore, online learning is better than face-to-face learning environments.
The second point raised in support of online learning is the increase in the participation rate. In today’s fast-paced environment, most students are part-time employees for some companies or running their own businesses. Research has shown that an average employee in the U.S. has only one percent of their time for learning (Dumford and Miller 453). Recent changes in the business world require workers to develop new technical skills. The flexibility offered by e-learning enables people to study at their own pace using the available opportunities. According to Lederman (3), online learning is both synchronous and asynchronous, implying that learners do not always need a tutor or logging in at any specific lesson time. A student can always seek assistance from their tutor whenever they need clarification. In essence, e-learning has facilitated access to education for many people regardless of their employment status or line of work. Since education access is the first step to knowledge acquisition, online learning is better than a face-to-face education system.
Online learning enables the student to cover more content than face-to-face learning. Unlike the classroom setting, where the teacher delivers the note for that single lesson, e-learning gives one access to all areas of the course. For instance, a student can decide to major in specific topics that capture their interest. They will not be limited by following the given class notes for the day. The freedom offered by online learning has the student concentrating on research and personal advancement, which would not be possible in the traditional classroom because they would have to sit in class for hours until the lesson ends. According to Dumford and Miller (458), students can interact with technology more when learning online on their own as opposed to sitting in a classroom. Technology has become a defining factor in today’s global education system. Most of the students’ innovations and development projects were developed outside the regular classroom environment. The curriculum and course contents covered are the same in both face-to-face and online learning, meaning that students will have acquired the same knowledge at the end of their courses. In this regard, online education is just as good as traditional classroom settings since no content will be missed.
Another significant factor that can be attributed to the high increase in online education is the level of satisfaction. According to Ponto and Nurlaily (132), students have expressed higher satisfaction levels with online learning than in physical classrooms. There is a correlation between satisfaction and performance, whereby students tend to put more efforts where they feel their hearts are oriented towards (Ponto and Nurlaily 136). In terms of performance, online learners have been performing better than their colleagues in traditional classrooms. The high performance has received much criticism in line with cheating claims.
A group of online education supporters argues that cheating is a menace to the education system, and it depends on the student’s discipline and integrity as well as the examiners’ supervision. Cases of cheating have been reported in traditional classrooms, implying that this is not a problem of e-learning but a fault in the education system. The use of a secure browser prevents learners from accessing other online sites or closing the exam page during examinations, thus barring them from googling. Lastly, online learning offers students a chance to learn discipline and personal motivation, which are key for future career practice.
Several arguments have been raised against online education, terming it half-baked learning that does not equal traditional learning in physical classrooms. According to Castro and Tumibay (1370), the efficacy of online learning with respect to higher education is questionable. The institutions of higher learning are viewed as the settings that produce leaders who are well equipped to handle future challenges and develop viable solutions. While many institutions have adopted online courses, the graduates from these e-learning systems have not shown equal competency with their counterparts from traditional classroom settings (Castro and Tunibay 1375). The goal of education is not just graduating but having the critical skills crucial for handling any future challenges in the global environment. Some degrees obtained online have failed to pass the standard certification procedures resulting in disappointment to learners who have to start all over again. Sub-standard degrees attributed to non-certified institutions and unqualified tutors have become a significant challenge to today’s education system.
Online classes have been criticized for their failure in developing technical skills in students. Some professional courses such as engineering and medicine are practical-intensive. Questions have been raised over the efficiency of virtual labs in technical subjects (Cooper and Scriven 10). In a physical lab, students get to experience the art of using their hands to measure quantities, applying precision and focus while experimenting. These skills are missed in the online landscape as students use virtual equipment, fluids, and measure quantities via technological tools.
In essence, a student has no chance to learn the smells, feel the texture, and test the stability of their hands when measuring amounts. These are crucial skills in the field, without which a graduate will remain unqualified for their professional practice. According to Cooper and Scriven (12), although the curriculum coverage is the same for online and traditional learning environments, practicals and assessments do not produce the same results. E-learning has worked well for soft skills and non-technical courses. However, the high industrialization rate and globalization need more technical competence, which cannot be obtained through online classes. From this point of view, e-learning is not nearly as good as face-to-face education.
The impact of social skills in today’s business environment and professional practice has gained much attention in recent years. Soft skills in management and socialization have become a determining factor in many business interactions. These skills are learned through physical interaction with colleagues at school, during an internship, and at work. As students engage in group discussions at work, they gain the ability to negotiate, argue, and disagree respectfully. These values are missing in the online environment where students learn alone and only interact with others through the blackboard (Dumford and Miller 465). Although students engage in discussion via blackboard, the personal touch is missing.
Physical interactions provide a platform where learners acquire verbal and non-verbal communication skills critical in their future professional practice. As a result, online education may be providing graduates who understand their lines of work well but have no skills in navigating the social landscape (Castro and Tunibay 1380). Some may argue that e-learning is producing robotized people who can deliver on their duties without the human touch. Since human beings are bound to interact in many aspects, navigating conversations is a core skill which lacks in the online environment. In this view, online learning fails and cannot be the same as a face-to-face system.
Lastly, cheating in online examinations has been highlighted as one of the critical limitations of e-learning. Students have the chance to google answers and seek help from other parties, which contributes to cheating. Unlike in traditional classrooms, where teachers observe students’ behavior during exams and restrict access to secondary sources, an online student cannot be easily monitored. The high rates of cheating have deprived online education of the integrity associated with a physical classroom setting (Cooper and Scriven 14). As a result, presenting a degree obtained online comes with the belief that it was not obtained genuinely, and therefore does not represent the students’ skill set and experience. This has led to frustration among many graduates who cannot get the employment they deserve, courtesy of the common belief against the integrity of online education. In view of such gravity, online education is not as good as face-to-face learning.
In conclusion, online learning has gained popularity in the recent past, with many graduates and the working class taking some courses online to enhance their skills. Technological advancement and the flexibility associated with e-learning have contributed to high satisfaction levels among online students. Although curriculum and course content is the same in both online and traditional education systems, the efficacy of online education has been subject to debate. As presented in this essay, students have attained quality degrees and professional skills online. However, there have been challenges with employment due to the questions of academic integrity in online examinations. The answer to whether online education is as good as face-to-face learning lies heavily on individual requirements and the line of study. While non-technical courses may be fully satisfied with the online education system, professionals interested in technical skills may find it less satisfactory.
Castro, Mayleen Dorcas B., and Gilbert M. Tumibay. “A Literature Review: Efficacy of Online Learning Courses for Higher Education Institution Using Meta-Analysis.” Education and Information Technologies, vol 26, no. 2, 2019, pp. 1367-1385.
Cooper, Trudi, and Rebecca Scriven. “Communities of Inquiry in Curriculum Approach to Online Learning: Strengths and Limitations in Context.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol 33, no. 4, 2017, pp 9-16.
Dumford, Amber D., and Angie L. Miller. “Online Learning in Higher Education: Exploring Advantages and Disadvantages for Engagement.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education, vol 30, no. 3, 2018, pp. 452-465.
Lederman, D. “Online Education Ascends.” Inside Higher Ed, 2018.
Ponto, Glen, and Nurlaily. “Students’ Satisfaction Level Towards Online Learning Compared To Traditional Classroom For English Subject.” JET ADI BUANA, vol 5, no. 2, 2020, pp. 131-138.