A Comparison of Online Learning and Campus-Based Learning
The development and growth of online learning has created opportunities for both students and academic institutions alike. The online learning environment may be argued as offering many benefits such increasing accessibility to education and support of diversity as well as providing a potentially lucrative revenue streams for the institutions. These benefits have driven the growth, but the benefits are not without drawbacks, with online courses reporting a higher attrition. The aim of the paper is to look at online learning, discussing the advantages and the disadvantages of the online environment comparing it to campus-based learning and the blending environment.
An online course has been defined as one where there is a minimum of 80% of the content is delivered through the online environment (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Online delivery may include a range of different mediums, including, but not necessarily limited to live or recorded video streaming, podcasts, online discussion groups, text-based lectures and online text-based content. The key to the definition is the availability of the content which is usually available through an Internet connection. A ground-based or face-to-face instruction model more traditional where the majority, if not all, the teaching is delivered in a classroom setting. This is defined as a course where 29% or less of the content delivered online (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Courses were between 30% and 79% of the course is delivered online are a hybrid of the traditional and online learning environment, and are defined as a blended or alternative course model (Allen & Seaman, 2014).
The online learning environment may be seen as growing at a phenomenal rate, it was estimated that in 2013 there were only 7.1 million students taking one or more courses online in United States (Allen & Seaman, 2014). When it is considered that statistics indicate there are 14.4 million undergraduate students in the United States, and 2 million graduate students (Statistics Brain, 2014), this appears to represent a significant proportion of the student population. It is a testament to the growth of online learning that establishment such as University Phoenix and the American Online University have grown and establish themselves as respected academic institutions. However, although there may be a growing respect for online learning, and online degrees, there are still some reserved opinions, with the belief that online learning may be inferior to ground-based or campus learning. The opinion appears to be waning, as in 2003 42.8% of chief academic officers believed that the online learning was inferior, which has fallen to 26% by 2013 (Allen & Seaman, 2014). These changes statistics may be the result of increased familiarization and acceptance of the courses, but as the courses become more popular and more resources are directed towards online learning has also been the potential for increased quality of content and support to students.
A specific challenge faced by many online courses is that of retention (Heyman, 2010). It is noted that assessing overall retention statistics or attrition levels to compare online learning with campus-based learning is very difficult due to the wide variety of measures that may be utilized, the general agreement is that online students display higher attrition level when compared to the equivalent traditional campus students (Heyman, 2010). Research by Bauman (2002) assessed the attrition levels for online learning courses, and found that it was not unusual for these to be in excess of 50%. Diaz (2000) undertook a study which provided a greater level of comparison, comparing the dropout rates of online students and traditional students on equivalent courses, with research results which supported the presence of a differential between online and campus students, but the level of attrition was far lower, with online attrition a 13.5%, compared to the traditional campus students demonstrating 7.2% attrition (Diaz, 2000). When measuring attrition, or retention, there can be little doubt there are many influences other than the course itself, including the level of preparedness and students, the overall commitment, and there academic ability, all of which will impact on their potential to drop out (Heyman, 2010). Different educational institutions will have different entry requirements and student types, which may explain some of the differential, as shown by the research by Murray (2001), undertaken at the online educational program at the Washington State Community College. The overall retention rate for the traditional students undertaking classroom lessons 85%, but this reduced to 70% for the online students (Murray, 2001).
The research statistics may vary, but there is a common trend; the level of attrition for online students tends to be higher than their comparators in the classroom or campus environment. However, this should not necessarily support the view that online learning is inferior, but may be more reflective of the type of student that can be accommodated. A major advantage of online learning is the electability this is provided for students who would otherwise be unable to attend a college or university course. Students who have family commitments and would otherwise be unable to attend classes, students suffer from disabilities, or students that live too far away from a college campus to make attendance viable, and cannot afford to move closer, may all be accommodated by online learning (Yates & Beaudrie, 2009). The many generations higher levels of academic achievement have been associated with social class and affluence, the online learning environment helps to break down the social barriers, so has the potential to increase social mobility (Yates & Beaudrie, 2009). For example, the single mother with a child to schedule their classes to sit around their house duties, while those who are working can choose to undertake learning as unsociable hours the colleges could not accommodate.
The increased levels of accessibility that facilitated by online learning may be perceived as increasing the diversity in costs for learning establishments to provide those facilities. However, Cluskey, Ehlen, & Raiborn (2011) argue that the management of students online can also be beneficial to the educational establishments, as the cost of providing courses in administering them as though associated costs compared to the traditional educational environment. Invariably, this may also have an impact on the cost of education, which further increases the accessibility to those who would otherwise be unable to gain a college education.
Accessibility is an undeniable benefit, but there are also some potential disadvantages associated with online learning. One major concern of many education establishments is the potential for cheating, so that students gain results which are misleading to potential employers, as they are not necessarily reflective of their actual ability. Without the presence of direct supervision, concerns exist regarding the potential for unethical practices, for example students getting friends or relations to complete assignments or exams on their behalf (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). Not only this seen creating the potential for problems, it is also argued that it may impact on the overall academic integrity of the entire educational system if it becomes widespread (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). However, simply because a practices possible, does not necessarily mean it will take place, and to many years as being the potential for traditional students to seek help from others in completing assignments outside of the classroom. While there is the potential, results indicate that there was no significant difference between grades that were achieved by traditional students and can parable online students, when allowing for the differences within the environments (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). This may be interpreted to indicate that it is unlikely significant cheating is taking place, and with increasing tools that can be utilized to manage online learning and detect problems such as plagiarism, the potential may also be argued becoming less likely.
It appears that online learning is likely to be here to stay, however the way in which it manifest in the future…