Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to decide between taking classes online or on-campus

ONLINE OR ON-CAMPUS: Which learning platform works
best with your lifestyle?
There are many factors you should consider when choosing whether to take each of your college classes online or on-campus. Depending on your time commitments, schedule, and learning style, you’ll probably find that one or the other is a better fit for you. And this could change as your life changes, so it’s important to understand the differences and similarities of both learning formats.

Today we’re bringing these factors to light to give you a full picture of what is offered from each. Ask yourself the following questions to see which learning platform fits best with your lifestyle at this particular moment, and which would provide you with the learning experience you’re looking for.

What’s your schedule like?

You’re best suited for online classes if … you have a lot of competing interests for your time. These days, it seems that most of us are trying to fit more commitments into less time, including a career, family, community involvement, hobbies, and other personal activities. This can be especially true if you’re an adult learner (typically defined as ages 25 and older). So if you find yourself working to balance an already-full plate, taking your classes online might be the right fit for you. Most online classes are asynchronous, which means you can log on to do your classwork at any time of the day. You can complete your schoolwork when it fits into your life, whether that is early in the morning, after the kids go to bed, or on the weekends. For example, two Peirce students, Desiree Mitchem and Rohan Mohanty, are living examples of the convenience of online learning. Flip back to their stories for more first-hand details.

You’re best suited for on-campus classes if … you enjoy a more structured learning environment. If you like having specific times each week to go to class, do your schoolwork, and meet up with classmates, you might be better suited for on-campus classes. You can have more predefined times for when you’ll focus on your education, which can give you more control over your schedule.

How do you like to engage with your classmates?

You’re best suited for online classes if … you like being able to review your answers before you share them. A major part of many online classes are discussion boards, in which students and instructors share knowledge and insight about topics at hand. When responding, you’ll be able to research your answer, which lets you learn while sharing insight information with the class. Some online classes also require students to peer review one other’s work and participate in group projects. So you’ll still get to know and engage with your classmates and instructors. And other students who are balancing busy lifestyles will be on the discussion boards at various times over the course of the week, so you can probably find someone who’s completing work late at night or early in the morning, just like you.

You’re best suited for on-campus classes if … you thrive in lively, face-to-face discussions and want in-person interaction with classmates and instructors. Some folks are able to better engage in problem solving and ideation when they’re able to bounce ideas off of others around a table, as well as read their facial and body language. If you’re the type of person who needs to interact with someone for the pieces to really click, you might consider taking classes in-person, where you’ll get to speak with peers and faculty members face-to-face.

How much do you like technology to be part of your learning experience?

You’re best suited for online classes if … the idea of web chats to discuss papers, social networks to get to know classmates, and collaborative tools to work on group projects sounds right up your alley. Technology is naturally a major part of online classes, and you might be more comfortable with the format if you like being on your smartphone, tablet, or computer often, and want to extend them to your educational endeavors. You’ll get to know classmates, work collaboratively, and experience the classroom—anytime, anywhere.

You’re best suited for on-campus classes if … you enjoy using technology but don’t want it to be such a large part of how you learn. If you prefer taking notes by hand, having hard copies of handouts, and completing tests on paper, you might prefer on-campus classes.

While these are some of the major differences between online education and campus education, there should also be some commonalities, which you’ll find from institutions that offer higher-quality programs in both learning formats. You should note these commonalities, because you might end up taking classes in both learning formats as your life changes. This is especially true of students who attend Peirce, because our students can choose to take each individual course offering online or on-campus, depending on their schedule and commitments.

So whether you’re considering online or on-campus classes, look for these common denominators as an indication of the school’s overall quality.
  • Accessibility to the full range of course materials: Higher-quality institutions typically design their course curriculums so that the same information is disseminated in their online and campus classrooms. This ensures all students build the same knowledge and experience the same rigor.
  • Highly trained instructors: Look for institutions with instructors that are highly trained to monitor the progress of their students in online and on-campus environments. If you’re taking classes online, it can be easy to forget that there’s someone on the other side of the keyboard who cares about you and wants you to succeed. Look for instructors who are easily accessible and make helping their students a priority. This includes being able to talk through email, over the phone, via a web chat, or by meeting in person—just as a classroom professor would.
  • A wide range of assessments: A high-quality program will offer a range of assessments that feed into students’ grades, including discussion boards, tests, quizzes, projects, and papers. What’s more, this variety should be a part of both online and campus classes. Each type of assessment demonstrates how students meet the learning objectives of a course, and focuses on helping students achieve learning outcomes.
  • Strong camaraderie with peers and instructors: High-quality institutions have built programs that allow students and instructors to experience camaraderie in any setting. In fact, we’ve heard stories of online students who meet their peers for the first time at graduation, and they’ve told us that it’s like they’ve known each other for years. And of course, on-campus students often meet up for coffee before class, or hold late-night study sessions before finals. Those relationships are a crucial part of the higher education experience, and you should look for an institution that lets you cultivate them through both learning platforms.
It’s important to consider these factors when choosing your learning format. But remember—as your life and commitments change, so might the learning format that works best for you. Just be sure to know your options, and look for high-quality programs that offer commonalities and flexibility where it really matters.

Do you have more questions about these factors, and which learning platform might be best for you, now and looking forward? Feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to answer.