In a traditional classroom setting, students have a good idea of what to expect. However, with online courses there can be a lot of variation. This article takes a look at what professors have observed about students' learning process in an online environment and how it differs from that of a face-to-face classroom.
For any educational platform to succeed, it must present students with the opportunity to communicate. Through the use of chat rooms and discussion boards, online students and instructors are able to interact, sometimes more so than in a traditional classroom. Diane Howard, a professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, says that by having the time to carefully consider their responses, students are able to contribute substantively to online discussions.
Distance learners are offered a multiple of tools. Professors challenge students to use these devices to better comprehend the course information as well as to converse with classmates. "Distance learning needs to be interactive, as participation in learning is important," Howard said. An instructor should not be the center point of e-learning, she said, but rather the content. With recorded lectures, students are able to pause and replay them, which offers a much appreciated break from note taking. In a traditional classroom situation, there is more of an opportunity for round-table style discussion, during which students have the chance to offer their opinions or ask questions. Online learning also offers opportunities for questions, though they must be asked via message board system rather than face to face.
Many professors acknowledge that having the ability to physically practice what you are learning can be important. This is particularly true for those who are studying subjects that involve experiments, such as chemistry or health care. In their hands-on science labs, students have the chance to see the results for themselves, enhancing their understanding of the process.
Pace is also different in an online program compared with an in-person one. With distance courses, students have more of an opportunity to speed up their education. While traditional courses follow a steady set rate, accelerated distance programs allow students to skip the introduction of a topic, so they can quickly build on what they already know. "When it works, it really works," said Dr. Jason G. Caudill, who teaches at the University of Tennessee. His goal is for students to learn how to critically assess information, whether they are doing so online or in a classroom.
Testing is an important component of both learning formats. In a traditional classroom, professors are able to observe their students in person while they complete an exam, whereas online programs do not offer that type of monitoring. What professors such as Caudill would like to see, as online learning continues to develop, is more accountability. This does not mean that every student should be sent to a supervised facility for every test, but rather that online institutions put a strong oversight system in place. Webcams and audio devices could play a role in ensuring that accountability.
Online and on-site learning both offer advantages to students, and the more choices they have, the better the chances are that they will find a beneficial program. "When it comes down to it," Caudill said, "all I want is for my students to develop intellectually."