Getting on the degree path that’s right for you is a big decision for many—and not something to take lightly. As employers demand more skills from employees, the demand of online degree programs has increased in popularity. In fact, within the United States, 6.7 million students enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2011—an increase of more than 500,000 students compared to 2010.
What is the big difference in online versus traditional education?
“Each student learns differently and in today's era of increasing technology, the question will not be whether to offer classes online, but rather how to implement them,” says Allison Hiltz, a former online and traditional education student who writes for The Book Wheel Blog.
There are several options when it comes to online or traditional education degrees. The platform offers everything from certificates and diplomas to more advanced degree options such as an associate or bachelor’s degree.
With constant changes in technology from all different degree programs, let’s take a look at the advantages to an online versus traditional education and examine how each type of education impacts you as a student.
Online vs. traditional education: flexibility
One of the key components to consider when weighing the options is the amount of time you have everyday to work on your degree. Are you willing and able to attend college full-time or do you need more flexibility for your busy schedule?
Flexibility was a major concern for Casey Horton, a graduate of sociology and psychology from Ashford University. Horton, a working adult, needed an online program because of the convenience it offered. “If you are raising a family, working and can't find a job that [offers] a flexible schedule, then online is the best way,” Horton says.
Online education:A benefit to taking online courses is that they offer flexibility to the student. This is a great option for those who already have a time commitment with family and work. Online classes will mold with your schedule—log in to your online course at a time that works best for you as opposed to having to attend a lecture at a specific time.
Traditional education:This option is best for those who have a little more time in their schedule. Even if you’re hoping for a little flexibility, on-campus courses typically offer day and evening schedules so you can coordinate with your daily commitments. One thing you’ll need to remember to factor in is where you live and work in proximity to the campus.
Online vs. traditional education: discipline
Another thing to consider when deciding your college degree options is how much you are able to discipline yourself. Be honest with yourself: How much structure do you need in order to be a successful student? Are you the type of person who has a running to-do list every day and checks things off as you go? If so, maybe an online degree is a great pathway for you.
Discipline is important for online degrees as well as for traditional, on-campus degrees. University of Louisville graduate Anita Hoag found the most success with a bit of both. “[Being an online college student] does require more discipline, but if you have the right technology tools … it can be a very rewarding experience,” Hoag adds.
Online education:Being an online student will work well for those who have the ability to self-motivate. Without a plan or some type of organization, your work will suffer in the online classroom, but if you set deadlines and prioritize your school schedule, you should see success.
Traditional education:If you know you need discipline to get things done as a student, a traditional on-campus setting is probably best for you. With this model you’ll have the support and strength to get assignments done from others who are around you on a daily basis.
Online vs. traditional education: social interaction
One last area to consider when deciding between online versus traditional education is whether you need a classroom experience that provides face-to-face communication for success. Are you someone who needs social interaction from your peers and instructors? Or are you someone who thrives in an independent study environment?
Rowan University communications student Brian Kearney enjoys the face-to-face time with other students and instructors. “Being in a classroom and engaging with others helps in the learning process, which is something online courses cannot offer,” Kearney says.
Online education:As an online student you will still interact with instructors and peers, but it just happens through online video. With this type of learning model, you can focus more on learning independently and, frankly, classes may go quicker without the distractions of a traditional on-campus model.
Traditional education:Being a traditional student will work well for those who need face-to-face communication. Without direct contact with instructors, you tend to not do as well with the work you have. If this is the case for you, success will come with a traditional education setting.
Online vs. traditional education: the blended education model
At this point, you might be thinking there are pros and cons to both online and traditional education. Or perhaps both sound like a great option for you as a student. If so, a 2012 article from Inside Higher Education also agrees with you.
The article states that students who were part of a blended education model performed better than those who were exclusively one or the other. In fact, Rasmussen College found that its 14,000-plus students faired similarly.
So what is a blended education model?
Blended education combines the intimacy and face-to-face interaction of a physical classroom with the flexibility and convenience of an online one.
Schools like the blended model because it provides students with cutting-edge artificially intelligent tutoring software while allowing instructors flexibility in planning their syllabuses, the article states. Students appreciate the blended model because it offers a reprieve from dusty textbooks and mundane human lectures.
It’s clear there are many options for earning your degree. The new trend in blended education in schools across the country might just be coming to a college near you.
The decision is yours
At the end of the day, it’s your decision on how to earn your college degree. Hopefully these side-by-side comparisons gave you a better outlook at the college degree plan that is right for you.
Before you dive into a degree, be sure to research whether online or traditional education is the best fit for you. If they both sound like a winning formula, Rasmussen College offers a blended model that might be perfect.
For further information choosing the best school for you, be sure to check out the Compare Rasmussen College Checklist—it will help you to narrow down your college choices by evaluating factors that matter to you.