The advancement in technologies and innovation of recent years has provided many prospects for using the Internet as a means for diversified educational approaches. The integration of online courses into postsecondary programs has benefited many populations of students by eliminating such obstacles to education as high cost, distance, employment obligations, and others. Indeed, people obtained easier access to education by means of online classes. However, the academic performance, professional knowledge, and skills and the development of competencies obtained by means of online learning are different from those gained in traditional classrooms. Indeed, evidence shows that employers prefer traditionally obtained degrees over online courses since they expect more value from face-to-face education (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). The most relevant measurement of benefits of learning is the outcomes in terms of degree completion and academic performance quality. Therefore, it is essential to compare these two approaches to education to identify their positive and negative features. The present paper is designed to compare and contrast online classes and traditional classes in the postsecondary education setting with the emphasis put on the benefits and challenges experienced by the students.
Challenges of Online Learning and Traditional Learning
The challenges of traditional classes are related to the organization, accessibility, and affordability issues. With globalization tendencies, people tend to obtain an education abroad where distance is a significant constraint. Traditional learning might be inaccessible in that way, which is why online learning would apply better. Similarly, since face-to-face classes require organizational expenses, such as facilities, teacher working hours, and others, the cost of traditional courses is higher, which is particularly relevant to students of lower socioeconomic status (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). Furthermore, in terms of its arrangement, traditional classes are exposed to increased competition between students and diminished opportunities for individual learning, which are more accessible in a personalized online classroom.
As for the online classes, there are more challenges for students’ outcomes. Indeed, although online courses are easy to access and complete, they provide poorer quality of knowledge, insufficient skills, and inadequate competence (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019; Wavle & Ozogul, 2019). Other study findings indicate that there is no significant difference between the outcomes of face-to-face and online learning (Pe & Wu, 2019). Nonetheless, it does not “imply that online learning is an effective teaching method for every student in every learning context” (Pe & Wu, 2019, p. 6). Indeed, it is essential to validate if the specialty and the types of skills targeted by the program might be adequately approached by means of online learning. For example, advanced simulations within online medical courses might be applicable for medical students and develop high-profile skills and competence by providing individual opportunities for practicing (Pe & Wu, 2019). However, such technological courses are costly and less accessible than traditional ones, which diminishes the overall purpose of online learning as an affordable educational means.
Another challenging and adverse issue of online classes is their inadequate addressing of socioeconomic disparities in education. As researchers state, “gaps in educational attainment across socioeconomic groups are even larger online than in traditional coursework” (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019, p. 3). Indeed, while being aimed at improving the accessibility rate of postsecondary education, online learning seems to fail to provide adequate academic outcomes and professional preparedness for students to compete in the labor market. Furthermore, students who enroll in online programs are exposed to challenges of obtaining a quality education, continuing education, and seeking employment since online learning is considered inadequate in comparison to face-to-face education. As Wavle and Ozogul (2019) found, “many faculty still feel that online classes “are poor attempts to replace the teacher with technology” (p. 2). Thus, online learning is more challenging than traditional learning in the higher educational setting, where professional competence is key.
Benefits of Online Learning and Traditional Learning
One of the beneficial aspects of online classes in comparison to traditional classroom programs is their growing popularity and advancement. Although the most frequent setting where online courses are pursued is for-profit educational institutions, the overall rate of online program enrollment increases steadily (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). Indeed, the statistical data vividly demonstrates the up-going direction of the number of students in the higher education setting seeking a degree. Over the past two decades, the percentage of learners engaged in one or more online classes “has risen steadily from under 10% in 2002, to 25.9% in 2012, and 28.3% in 2014” (Wavle & Ozogul, 2019, p. 1). These numbers are even more striking when they are viewed from the perspective that the overall number of students in higher educational institutions has decreased. It demonstrates that traditional classes are less attended and less popular than online courses, which implies affordability and accessibility of online learning for students.
Another significant benefit of the online approach to education is the cost-efficiency, affordability, and accessibility of the learning experience. According to research, “online learning will both lower the cost of providing education and ensure access to meaningful postsecondary credentials for broad segments of the population who are not well served by more traditional college and university programs” (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019, p. 4). Thus, online learning bridges the gap in higher education accessibility and provides multiple learning opportunities for a wider audience of students.
As for the traditional classes, their benefits over online ones are numerous. Indeed, in the face-to-face setting, students directly interact with educators, thus engaging in active participation and communication with experts. The interaction with fellow learners enhanced by live communication and experience exchange accelerates learning and increases the opportunities for successful degree completion and a high level of academic performance (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). The retention rates of students enrolled in traditional courses are higher due to their inclusion in the learning process and the sense of belonging to the academic community (Wavle & Ozogul, 2019). Finally, as it has been stated, traditional classes are perceived as more congruent, and competency-aimed leading means by employers and educators, while online classes are perceived skeptically.
In summary, the comparison of online and traditional classes from the perspective of benefits and challenges for higher education students demonstrated an array of positive and negative characteristics on both sides. Online courses are aimed at bridging the disparities, making higher education more accessible, affordable, and cost-efficient. However, it is mostly used by for-profit educational institutions and does not provide competence, skills, and knowledge sufficient for students to compete in the labor market. On the other hand, traditional learning is more costly and less accessible, and affordable in comparison to online classes. Nonetheless, it produces consistent academic outcomes, develops skills, knowledge, and professional competence by means of direct interaction and engagement in the learning process. Despite the differences and the fact that traditional classes are more quality-oriented, much should be invested in online classes to improve their organization and adapt them toward the particularities of each specialization.
Pei, L., & Wu, H. (2019). Does online learning work better than offline learning in undergraduate medical education? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medical Education Online, 24(1), 1-14.
Protopsaltis, S., & Baum, S. (2019). Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy. Center for Educational Policy Evaluation. Web.
Wavle, S., & Ozogul, G. (2019). Investigating the impact of online classes on undergraduate degree completion. Online Learning, 23(4), 281-295.