With technology continuously developing in modern society, new forms of learning opportunities have become available to college students. Traditionally, students enroll in courses taught in the classroom by an instructor. Since the advent of the Internet, many institutions offer courses and even entire degree programs online, making education more accessible to students than ever before. While some students still value the benefits of face-to-face classes, others prefer the advantages of online instruction.

Online Learning Readiness

Not everyone who wants to take classes online is ready to do so. Many institutions have a webpage dedicated to helping students evaluate whether they are a good fit for online learning. For example, Northwestern State University of Louisiana asks students to determine their comfort level with computers, availability of Internet access, online skills and learning styles. Students who have adequate computer skills, a quick learning curve in understanding new technology, self-motivation and an ability to accomplish tasks under self-direction are likely to enjoy and benefit from online courses.

Benefits of Face-to-Face Instruction

Being involved in a college community fosters relationships inside and outside the classroom. One concern institutions have regarding the trend toward online learning is that students will not develop the support system found on college campuses that leads to higher retention rates and completion of degrees. Arleen Bejerano, in her article for the National Communication Association, points out that when students take classes on campus they have direct access to instructors, student support centers, tutoring and various other resources that aid them in succeeding in their education.

Components of an Online Course

Students considering taking an online course may not know what type of work load and assignments to expect. In an effort to standardize online course design, many institutions develop guidelines and train faculty on key components to include in their online courses. According to 4Faculty.org, students taking an online class can expect frequent self-quizzes to determine comprehension of content, posting to discussion forums to interact with other students in the course, group or individual assignments that can submitted electronically, accessing web-based content and testing through a secure server provided by their institution.

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Advantages vs. Disadvantages

Once a student understands what to expect from online learning versus face-to-face instruction, they can determine what the advantages and disadvantages are to each venue. Bejerano suggests that while online learning offers flexibility of schedule and location, students must be prepared to direct their own learning with fewer support options. Students who take courses on campus benefit from the direct interaction with instructors, other students and support staff and from hearing lectures and participating in classroom discussion. However, with face-to-face instruction, students have to schedule their classes around their other commitments, travel to campus and incur additional costs, such as room and board.