College life has long been defined by dorm rooms, intramural sports, group projects and all-nighters; but a technological shift in higher education is promoting convenience over experience. Students are ditching the classroom and heading online.
Web-based college programs, digital classrooms and streaming lectures offer a 21st century education for students on the go. It’s cheaper, less time consuming and, according to some, more effective.
Today, most major universities offer courses online. A mounting student crisis indicates this more cost-effective online model will promote student prosperity, but what opportunities do students sacrifice as they’re pulled out of the classroom? For better or worse, online colleges are booming in the education market.
A Click Away
College students have been known to head to class in their pajamas, but new programs allow students to literally pursue a degree in bed. Online colleges conduct classes much like a traditional institution. In a typical lesson, students are prompted to view a presentation, oftentimes with audio narration.
To track attendance, some programs integrate quizzes within lessons. Following a lesson, students are prompted to discuss the material with “classmates” in an online forum.
Exams are an obvious point of concern for online colleges, especially when they’re designed to be taken without outside resources. Tests may be the reason hybrid colleges that have both online programs and physical buildings emerge as the the most effective model.
While it’s difficult to measure the social implications of forgoing a traditional college experience for a virtual one, studies show that students who take online classes learn just as much, if not more, than their peers in traditional programs.
A 2009 study conducted by the non-profit organization SRI International for the US Department of Education, concluded that students who took online classes performed better than those in traditional classroom settings.
Advocates for online learning say these customizable programs lend themselves to students going at their own pace. If a student is struggling to grasp a topic, he or she can repeat a lesson instead of falling behind. On the other, if a student is excelling, he or she isn’t held back by fellow students.
Easy on the Wallet
There’s certainly a debate to be had about the merits of online college programs versus traditional colleges, but it will become less and less relevant if students can’t afford to go to college. In 2010, graduates who took out loans for college had an average debt of $24,000, according to the New York Times.
Online programs offer an array of financial benefits for frugal students and their families. Along with room and board costs, students enrolled in online programs also save on parking and commuting costs.
They may be able to utilize no contract phone plans and they certainly save on utilities, food and other miscellaneous expenses. Savings continue if schools pass along the savings they get in avoiding building and maintenance costs.
As a growing number of students in online degrees graduate, we may get a better idea of the unforeseen limitations of these virtual programs. For now, however, online college is a viable alternative to a traditional experience.
Jake is a recent graduate who majored in engineering and music.