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Assessing the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Classes, Essay Example

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Essay

The question of whether or not the Internet can provide an appropriate forum in which students can seek higher education is, at this point, moot. The fact is that the Internet is and will continue to be used as an adjunct to, and even a replacement for, traditional approaches to education at all levels, from primary school through graduate programs. The only questions that remain are those that ask how the virtual environment can be best shaped to fit the needs of students and to provide an experience that is, in all the ways that matter, comparable to or even better than the traditional classroom setting. In my experience taking this class online I have found that there are some aspects of online classes that are personally appealing, and some that do not quite measure up as compared to the experience of taking classes in a real-world setting. Overall, however, I found that the positives outweigh the negatives, though I am unsure that the online setting is appropriate for all types of courses. There are a number of factors that can determine whether online classes are appropriate; including the abilities of individual students to function in a self-directed environment and the inherent nature of some courses to lend themselves to individualized study. For the right student, and the right class, online courses may be the best possible choice.

Online classes are becoming increasingly common, and more and more schools are offering individual classes and even full degrees online. Some schools offer instruction online at no cost to students, while reserving the actual issuing of degrees to students who pay to enroll in classes. Harvard University, for example, now offers a variety of classes online that are accessible to students in virtually any location on Earth where Internet access is available. These courses are available at no cost, but they are not associated with actual degrees. Even those students who ace these online courses will not be given course credit towards a degree; in short, a student who seeks a degree for Harvard will still have to be accepted in the traditional manner and will have to pay tuition or subsidize the costs of classes with scholarships, grants, or other financial means.

Mirroring these free classes from Harvard University –and MIT and a range of other well-known and not-so-well-known schools- are the schools that offer “regular” classes online. These for-credit classes are typically modeled after the traditional classroom-setting course they are designed to replace, and are offered as alternatives to these traditional classes for those who seek the convenience of online classes while still receiving the same educational benefits (and credit towards degrees) of traditional classes. The potential advantages of such online classes seem obvious enough; the greatest advantage of taking an online class, in my personal experience, has been that I can schedule my school work and study time around the rest of my daily obligations. For students who hold down part-time or full-time jobs, who are raising families, or who otherwise have obligations outside of school that must be met, taking classes online may be the only way to be juggle the responsibilities and requirements of getting an education with the responsibilities and requirements of life.

There are other advantages to taking classes online as opposed to taking them in the classroom; transportation and costs are two such advantages. Even if the per-credit cost of an online class is the same as the cost of taking the class on campus –which is typically the case- these costs can be offset by not having to commute to and from school. For those with limited access to transportation or who lack geographical proximity to their choice of school, online classes may provide a viable option that saves both time and money. These various advantages, when combined, can make online classes an extremely attractive alternative to the traditional model of attending classes; by eliminating the costs and time involved in attending classes and scheduling course obligations around work, family, and other obligations, even classes that cost just as much per credit as on-campus classes may be, in the end, significantly less expensive.

There are, of course, some notable disadvantages to taking online classes. Such disadvantages may be determined or influenced by a number of factors, both personal and external. On a personal level, students who take classes online must have a sense of responsibility and a level of self-motivation that can exceed that which is required of students taking classes in a typical on-campus setting. While it may be advantageous to arrange a personal schedule for meeting course obligations, there also exists the potential to fall short or to procrastinate. Without the built-in structure of attending classes at specific times, it is up to the individual student to block out the necessary time to attend to the course requirements online. There are also intangible factors involved, such as the camaraderie or even the competition of attending classes with other students; the relationships developed in the real-world setting that afford students the opportunity to study together, and other factors that may be hard to assess but are nonetheless quite significant.

In that vein, the biggest disadvantage to taking classes online is the lack of direct, real-time interaction between students and instructors. This class, like most online classes, has a structure that is designed to afford a measure of interaction both between students and instructors and among the students themselves. There are opportunities for students to discuss assignments with each other, and to review and respond to the work done by others taking the same class. It is also possible to ask questions of the instructor or to otherwise interact with both the instructor and other students; that said, there are significant and inherent differences between the kind of interaction that is possible in the classroom setting and that which is possible in the virtual, online setting. It is one thing to have a question or to offer a comment that will eventually receive an answer or response online; it is quite another to ask a question and have it answered immediately, or to witness comments in the classroom spark discussions and conversations that simply would not happen in a virtual setting.

To some degree, then, the online experience of taking classes is one that reflects the real-world experience, but does not quite capture all of the nuances and factors that exist in the real-world setting. The typical format of taking a class online –which includes logging on to the school site, reading the associated materials, completing the coursework, and occasionally responding to the work of other students taking the class- is one that encompasses the basic requirements of the educational experience, but by necessity leaves out some of the less tangible aspects. As such, taking online classes involves making a trade-off between the advantages of adapting the course to fit a personal schedule and the disadvantages of not having real-world, real-time interaction with professors and fellow students.

There is no question that online classes are here to stay; the only question is how they will evolve in the coming decades. As the costs of interactive technology decrease and the availability of such technology increases, online classes will likely begin to take on more of the characteristics of traditional real-world classes. The opportunities afforded by technology will also likely build on those advantages, allowing students and instructors to interact with each other to a degree that is simply not possible in a traditional setting. On a personal level, I found that the advantages and disadvantages of taking this course online were roughly equal; while it is possible that I would have benefited in some ways from having greater access to real-time interaction with the instructor or with other students, the schedule I arranged for myself allowed me to find more time to read, study, and complete the coursework than I would likely have had if I had taken this class in an on-campus setting. I am hesitant to predict what sort of grade I will receive for this class, though I believe I performed at least adequately. I also think that it is unlikely that I would have earned a significantly higher or lower grade had I taken this course in a classroom. There is no single answer to the question of whether he benefits of online classes can equal (or exceed) those of traditional classes; it is, and will likely remain, an answer that is determined by a confluence of factors related to the individual student, the nature and type of the class, and the technological platform in use. What is clear is that online classes will continue to evolve and grow in popularity, and will continue to offer opportunities for more and more people to benefit from education.

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