Benefits outweigh downsides in case for online learning - The Herald: Opinion

Benefits outweigh downsides in case for online learning

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Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 3:39 pm

For many students at Arkansas State and across the country, online learning has significantly impacted their success in earning a college degree.

Arkansas State recently added four online Bachelor of Arts degree programs, one of which happens to be my major. Now, students at A-State have access to online political science, criminology, sociology and communication studies degree programs.

This spring, the university is launching a master’s degree program in Engineering Management.

Currently, there are almost 3,000 students enrolled online at Arkansas State. The reasons so many students enroll online are numerous.

Online learners are privy to flexible hours. Many students opt to take courses online because the hours are flexible. Going to class at a specific time seems simple to some students. But for students who work full-time jobs, have spouses or children, or have other specific time commitments, class schedules can be much more complicated.

Additionally, spending less time in class frees up time to get involved in other time-consuming activities on campus.

Those enrolled in online classes have access to school at the press of a button from almost any location.

Many students do not live in the area or cannot afford to live on campus for the entirety of their college career. Online classes eliminate the need to physically be at Arkansas State, making it much easier to provide an education to students who aren’t on campus.

This option cuts down on commuting costs, meal plans, and the cost of renting an apartment in Jonesboro or living on campus.

One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that non-traditional students have more opportunities to realistically earn a degree. Many traditional students take online classes, but online learning benefits the non-traditional community in particular because of the flexibility it provides.

For students returning to college to finish a degree, going to school for the first time to start a new career, or getting a second degree, online education may be the only option.

There are, however, some disadvantages to cutting the classroom out of your schedule.

One of the things that make a college experience unique is the interaction between professors and students. Many online students never even meet their professors; this hinders relationships, but also hinders many students’ ability to succeed in the course.

A lack of classroom discussion could also affect student learning. This may not be true for all degree programs, but in the Humanities and Social Sciences and Communication departments, which includes the four new online BA programs, class discussion is an integral part of the learning process.

Without that interaction, students are not fully challenged to explore different opinions.

Every student has a preferred learning style. Some students need hands-on interaction to learn; some are more comfortable with audio or visual tactics. Unfortunately, online classes can only engage the students up to a certain point. Kinesthetic learners may have a more difficult time retaining information in online classes.

Ultimately, students will have access to a new learning platform for a wide variety of degree programs. Only time will tell if the university’s new venture is truly successful.

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