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The virtual versus the physical

Trisha Bhattacharya attempts to methodically list out the pros and cons of classroom learning and online study.

WEIGH YOUR OPTIONS A classroom course implies paper-admission applications, varying study costs and face-to-face interaction.Learning and studying are essentially personal, and sometimes group processes. In this day and age, classroom teaching is not the only medium of learning because technology has enabled education to be brought to the doorstep of a student of any age, in an online format too.

Online programmes at present, comprise the latest technology (management systems like Blackboard and Moodle), world-class learning styles, at comparatively lower costs, with easy application and payment facilities, interactive sessions, flexible timings, study material, personalised training; video instructions, web-chatting between tutors and students, and online submissions. Online learning programmes are a great tool to earn a degree, a certificate, or for simply acquiring knowledge. Most well-known universities all over the world offer online programmes in a variety of subjects now.

Classroom courses naturally imply paper-admission applications, varying study costs, face-to-face interaction, developing people skills in a classroom setting, overall learning, peer pressure, co-curricular activities, location specific courses (travelling to the classroom), personal contacts, friendships, course books, classroom/group training, paper-based exams, attendance, etc. When comparing online learning with the traditional form, let’s take a look at some of the features which are common to both.

Expenses: Fees for both formats vary. In an online programme however, you can save on travelling and choose to study from home, instead of travelling to distant locations to attend a course. Most online programmes provide reading material and you may not have to purchase other textbooks.

For classroom courses, study material is rarely covered under tuition fees and need to be purchased.

Credibility: The credibility of the university offering either of the two study formats play a key role in the decision-making process. The reputation or track record of the course being offered should be scrutinised.

Quality: Study material in an online setting is usually excellent because that is one of the main ingredients of the programme. Classroom courses can be equally effective too, if textbooks chosen are sufficient for the student to study and learn from. Tutors too, are extremely important, because they eventually guide the students or steer the course appropriately, irrespective of the format of study.

Timing: Most online courses provide flexible timing, while some have timely-schedules like reading lessons and are strict about submitting assignments on time. Some even allow a student to juggle work, home and study and submit assignments when they can. In a classroom setting, you simply have to submit your work on time, or write an application to your tutor requesting an extension.

Interactive: Depending on the university offering the course, the level of interaction in an online programme may differ. Students and tutors in an online study environment interact via e-mails and other collaborative tools. The online medium is a less intimidating and unprejudiced platform, where students can post queries to their tutors without hesitation. This might not necessarily be the case in a classroom set up. Classrooms usually allow a lot of healthy face-to-face interaction between students and tutors which is good for overall learning.

Motivation: Self-motivation is as necessary as the course itself when it comes to an online programme because the tutor won’t be physically present to admonish a student if he is not regular with assignments. In a classroom course, their presence usually works in favour in the long run. A classroom scenario may be stricter about field work as part of the course. But there are some online programmes also which include field assignments.

Spontaneity: A student needs to be alert when listening to the tutor, taking notes or even when answering the tutor, in a typical classroom setting. His/her spontaneity is assessed in an online programme too. However, it becomes a priority in a classroom as the student is marked on the basis of overall participation in class.

Some online study programmes do mark students on their participation in an e-class (like commenting on another student’s assignment in an online learning system like the Blackboard). Some, however, grade students only on the basis of submissions, and not attendance.

Friends: A key positive of classroom courses is being able to study with friends, and fellow batchmates, allowing students to share notes. A classroom allows you to make new friends, who you meet personally. This personal face-to -face interaction is missing in an online programme. Students may have to deal with peer pressure in the classroom setting. In contrast, online study takes less number of students per class and provides one-on-one training.

Students must balance their requirements of learning (keeping significant features of both formats in mind), and also, be aware of who the tutors are, what the course content has to offer, own convenience and budget when picking a particular programme or a combination thereof.


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