The advent of online learning has opened educational opportunities to people who previously might have been unable to make the time and financial commitment necessary for traditional education. Online learning, however, is not the same as classroom learning, and significant differences between the two approaches mean that online learners won't have the same experience as students in the classroom.
Online classrooms frequently provide many opportunities for virtual interactions among students. Message boards, instant messaging and email can all help students collaborate and communicate. But when a class is entirely online, students have fewer opportunities to get to know one another. They can't for example, compliment a classmate on the shirt for her favorite band or go to lunch together after class. This means fewer social interactions, which can be isolating for students who are eager to make friends. It also means fewer opportunities to get to know other students and collaborate on class projects.
Professors have a wide variety of options for interacting with students in an online setting, but students don't have the option to meet with a professor after class or attend office hours. For most online classes, particularly those at online universities, all interactions are through the computer, so students don't develop the same relationships with their professors that they might develop in a traditional classroom.
Online classrooms tend to offer students much more independence than traditional educational settings. Professors don't have to spend time managing student behavior and might not even take attendance. For some online classes, students can watch webinars whenever they want rather than showing up for class at the same time everyday. This can help make school attendance possible and means that busy schedules don't have to interfere with getting a degree. Students who require external sources of motivation to attend class or pay attention, however might not do as well in online classrooms.
Professors can demonstrate concepts to students using videos, live demonstrations and a host of other tools in online classrooms. They can also direct students to check out websites or videos. But concrete, real-time demonstrations and interactions occur less frequently in online classrooms. An online biology lab, for example, doesn't give students the opportunity to see, smell and feel the materials themselves, and an online foreign language class doesn't expose students to the pressure to speak the language while an entire class is watching.
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