December 15, 2006

Online Learning vs. The Traditional College

Adult students are more likely to succeed in online education than a traditional college student because adult students have more maturity and responsibility. Traditional college students are between the ages of 18-21 and benefit from the social atmosphere that a normal college campus provides. A lot of older adults have full time jobs or families and look at college as an education only not a social life. For young students, college means newfound freedom because they can live on campus or with friends away from parents.

A college campus has social activities and an exciting environment. For an individual seeking a degree for a promotion or similar benefit, this type of environment is not necessary. In a study from the National Survey of Student Engagement only 11 percent of traditional college students spend 25 or more hours a week studying, reading, writing, and doing other activities for their classes; 40 percent spend 10 hours or less out of the 168 that make up a week. As you can see there is a difference in the study patterns of adult students and 18-21 year old students.

Common reasons adults return to school:

Common reasons 18-21 year olds enroll in college:

The popularity of online learning is increasing at a very fast pace. There are millions of students in the United States that are currently studying online and overseas students are joining in on this trend. With the Internet, online degrees have become a perfect option for the individual who may not be able to enroll in a traditional classroom institution. Online education teaches you how to multi task unlike a regular classroom setting. Online you have to use several programs, maintain files and email in order to succeed in that type of institution. The course work is distributed online through email or posted on websites. The Internet is ideally suited to bring together all kinds of learning tools. Papers and assignments are submitted by email. The entire operation is done online. listed a few strategies for distance learners:

Set goals

•  Goal #1. I will succeed in this course.

•  At the beginning of a new course, look through the materials. Break the lessons/assignments into manageable chunks. You might not have time to do a full lesson in one night, so plan for how much you can do, and then stick to it until you're done.

Establish a regular study/learning schedule

•  Keep a calendar or journal with your study goals and important dates clearly marked and look at it every day

•  Determine what time is best for you to study.

•  Take breaks-walk around and stretch. Drink some water or have a light snack.

•  If possible, have a dedicated study place with all the supplies you might need

•  Pace yourself. Don't over extend yourself. There's a reason it takes several years to graduate from traditional university. Make sure your learning not just racing through the materials.

Talk about it

•  Tell people what you're doing. You're more likely to stick to a course if your co-workers knows you're doing it.

•  Ask a friend or family member to check up on you.

•  Ask someone to proof your work before you submit it.

Join a study group

•  Join a club.

•  Get a mentor.

•  Search the internet for bulletin boards or chat rooms related to your topic.

Know your learning style

•  Look for real world situations and examples of what you're learning about.

•  You'll be much more interested if you're involved, not just reading about a topic.

•  Put things into practice as early as possible.

Celebrate successes

•  Reward yourself with whatever work for you, along the way. Remember, you chose to do this. Be proud of your accomplishments.

Ask Questions

•  If you don't understand something ask.


It is important to note that every online program is different. Some are completely online while others called hybrids require that students come to a physical campus for lectures or test taking. If your schedule permits you to attend campus sessions once in a while then hybrid would be suitable. Universities like NYU operate under synchronous which means students and teachers participate at the same time in a virtual classroom or chat session via the web. An individual who has the time to attend a virtual session but cannot commute to a college campus would find this a great option. The other learning outlet for online education is asynchronous, which is self-paced allowing students to work independently. If you like not having to attend class on campus or in a virtual classroom then asynchronous would be best for you. Some like Stephanie a 28year old single mother with a small child would benefit from this type of online education. Stephanie attends York College part time online at night because she can't get daycare in the evenings. She can take classes at home while caring for her infant child.

Whichever online education options you choose they all require focus, dedication, and motivation. Trying to focus in a virtual online class is harder than a traditional classroom because there are so many distractions. If you attend online classes at home or the office you run the risk of hearing outside noise such as people chatter, TV or radio, office equipment, children. Regular campus classrooms are closed in so there is no one else besides the teacher and students; there are fewer or no interruptions. Because of the distractions online classes require more discipline, you must be able to concentrate under pressure.

Another reason online an education takes discipline and maturity is that unlike a normal campus the teacher is not directly in front of you and visible. In a normal campus classroom the teacher is in front of you supervising and making sure you are paying attention and completing assignments. For a young college student this is beneficial because they lack the responsibility to be organized and multi task on their own. Adult students however are more inclined to be mature because of already existing obligations like work and family. According to studies done by the U.S. Office of technology Assessment compared to traditional students, online adult learners do as well or better in courses and on tests. In another study done by CBS news human resources executives agreed students who go to school online after work while balancing family life demonstrate a particular ambition and resourcefulness that would be an asset in the work place.

Mature adult students understand the importance of an education and how valuable it is to their lives. Another example is college tuition being expensive this means budgeting is important. Budgeting money and time one asset in college success. Traditional 18-21 year old college students still lack the discipline for time and financial budgeting. Many rely on parents to support them financially while in school. They have teachers or peers to help them with time management for school assignments and things of that nature. One of the reasons parents encourage their kids to attend college is so they can become responsible.

Anna Morgan is a professor at Albuquerque Community College. She teaches Business Writing courses in both distance learning online and real campus classroom. Her distance learning class is held twice a week online in a virtual classroom. Most of her online students are between the ages of 25-40. Some of them have children, full time employment or both. Her campus class students are typical college age all under 21 years of age. Anna states that most of her students perform fairly well, but if she were to switch students so that online students were taking campus classes and campus students were to go online it would be as successful, the performance level would drop. Adult students would not be able to attend campus class. The young students would not focus and be prepared for class, because online classes requires more effort on the students part, Anna believes her younger students couldn't remember for lack of organization. She says it helps her students if they are reminded when assignments are due and that she is visible, not just a face behind a computer screen. In her opinion adult students in her online class are mature and more capable of succeeding in an online education environment. I asked to interview a student from each of her classes to see what their opinions were and why they chose that particular learning environment.

Steven Albright is a 35-year-old student in Anna's online business writing course. He is married but does not have any children and works a full time job. Steven is working on completing a bachelor's degree that he failed to receive earlier. I asked him why he waited to go to college, he stated that he and his wife got married young so he needed to work and support his family and college tuition was not in their budget. Steven has been working for Intel for almost 10 years, when he started working they gave complete training to new hires without a college degree. Now new hires must have a degree in order to apply. He feels the way business is going job security is very low. Obtaining a degree would increase his chances of getting a job elsewhere should Intel fall. Because his schedule is so hectic an online education is the only option he has. Commuting back and forth to a college campus after working 10-hour shifts is too difficult. Steve says that he gets online to attend class from his office at work or home computer. I asked him if preparing and organizing for class was difficult, he said no because he uses Outlook Express and other multi tasking skills to handle all his responsibilities including school. I wanted to note that Steven's grades are always above average.

The other student I interviewed attends class on campus. Lisa Hamilton is 19, studying for a Bachelors in communications. She is a student in Anna Morgan's onsite business course. I asked Lisa if she had ever thought about taking classes online, she thought that it would be a challenge. In her opinion online classes are for the most part independent and self structured. Lisa felt she would have to be more organized because the professor would not be available as much to guide her. Online classes would require a lot more effort on her part. Lisa also stated that it is already hard for her to remember everything she must do for campus classes.

I wanted to hear other situations that dealt with online learning so Anna suggested I speak with Tonya, a 20-year-old student in her online business writing class. Tonya is different from the other students in the distance-learning program she is also the youngest. I asked her why she chose online learning instead of campus classes, she stated that after attending traditional classes she preferred online. Tonya felt pressure in a regular classroom because everyone could see her vulnerability. This is one reason I also chose an online education.

When I was a 17-year-old senior in high school, I was preparing for college the following year. College was something we knew we had to attend. No one gave it a second thought because our parents, teachers, and counselors encouraged us to go. In my high school they start preparing you for college right away. By your junior year we were expected to know which colleges we sought admission. I remember my junior year all the pressure to excel on academics; because my teachers would always say how that is the year colleges look at the most. Looking back I really didn't have much of a choice about college. I never had time to think about what I wanted to do with my life or if I even wanted to go to college. When I did think about college it was about all the fun and excitement in the atmosphere. I was a cheerleader in a high school and being a cheerleader for college seemed like the logical next step. High school sports games were always filled with exhilaration so college had to be twice that. At that time I wasn't even thinking about a real career path just still in a dreaming phase, college was just an extension of high school. The only difference is that my parents would not be there. This time I would be on my own less rules and restrictions.

College move-in day was like liberation, all the freshmen with boxes and parents in vans or trucks with all their young hopefuls' belongings. You can see the looks on the mother's faces; it was a feeling of sadness because their children were leaving home, but at the same time proud because they knew to expect a college degree when their child returned. It was obvious who was an only child and which students were the youngest out of siblings. The only child parent's seemed to be more emotional for several reasons. Parents dropping off their youngest child looked slightly more relived like they finally reached the end of a long journey. As me and my parents were driving through the campus looking for my dorm house there was so much activity around us. Fraternities and Sororities showing off their colors and logos trying to get new recruits to pledge, then step teams and cheerleaders dancing and cheering; there were also other school clubs and groups ready and prepared to give information to freshman. I don't recall any academic groups outside cheering about classes and courses; it was only a build up of recreation activities.

When we pulled up to my dorm and went inside to get my welcome packet and keys, they immediately encouraged me to join in the dorm activities. The dorm had hallway decorating contests, movie nights, and slumber parties happening frequently. I guess all these things were to help motivate students and make them feel welcome. My move in day was different from most of the new students because I actually lived in state, for some other students this was far from home. Even though it wasn't far from home, I still wanted to experience all that college life had to offer dorms, frat parties, sports games, ect. My roommate was already unpacked by the time I got there; she was from California majoring in psychology. From the look on her face, I could tell we were going to get along great.

After my parents left, my roommate Shelly and I attended student orientation. A whole auditorium filled with new students ready to embark on college life. I don't think half of that crowd was thinking about what classes they wanted to register for. The majority thought about parties that night and whatever else would be going on. I was actually split in the middle between which courses to take and which event to attend tonight. Shelly was busy looking around trying to count how many cute guys were in the room. Looking around it was obvious that all of the males there were looking at every female deciphering who looked good, who they could date and how fast. During this parade of body scooping and party planning, the Dean of all the departments and head of the freshman class spoke to everyone. The gist of what they all stated was what you normally hear on the first day of college. Look to your left, look to your right the person next to you may not be here on graduation day in four years. This is a very blunt but true statement. At that time I didn't think that applied to me because in my mind I thought I was prepared for college. Little did I know college was much more than I had anticipated and that I was not mentally prepared.

I remember the first class of the semester everyone seemed to be excited about learning. The idea that this was a real college course just like something we've seen on a movie or TV. I think that a lot of kids watch movies or television shows that display college life and believe it as real; as if college is exactly like that. Very seldom does Hollywood show college to be a challenge and if they do the characters appear to overcome the obstacles with ease. For a young person who has never been to college its very easy to believe whatever you see or hear, especially if it sounds good. You can't blame adolescents in their misinterpretation of college because its an experience like many others that you will only know once you go through it yourself. A boyfriend I had in high school used to say how he couldn't wait for college because of the way it looked in a movie titled House Party 2. This movie was about a young 18 year old guy and his girlfriend going to college for the first time. Although they do show scenes where they talk about what classes they want to register for and the main character preparing for a huge term paper, the movies main theme is the big pajama party they throw on campus. Now my boyfriend was a terrific student on the honor roll, but he was also intrigued in the parties and even of college life. Even good motivated students who don't drink or smoke can still get caught up in the hype of college life. I never drink or smoke, but still I wanted to attend parties and hang out with my friends. Being so taken by all the fun college has to offer makes it difficult to concentrate on school.

Because I didn't think very much about what I really wanted to do with my life my academics suffered. I know my roommate became caught up in guys and dating. She was always going out with some guy she met at a party or event. I don't think there was a single night where something was not happening on campus. There were so many parties, sporting events, and dorm nights. I can recall times when I would just give up on studying because my roommate was making out with some guy on the other side of the room or the loud music and noise coming from other rooms, dorms, or outside. Once I tried going to the library because it was quiet and I could concentrate better, but as I was on my way there was so much going on around me that I looked like a geek carrying books on my way to the library. Finally I saw one of my friends who convinced me to attend a party with her in a coed dorm. At that time in my life I was so young and excelling in school, getting a good education just did not seem of high importance. Like many at that age I figured I had plenty of time.

By the end of my first semester I knew that I was not ready for college. Unlike high school this was not free, my parents were paying a lot of money to put me through school. My grades were suffering from my hectic social life. I failed to make school a priority and instead choose my friends and hanging out. In addition to that I still wasn't sure about which career path I wanted to take. Looking back on my experience as a traditional college student living on campus, there was no way I would be able to handle an online class. It was hard enough attending regular daytime classes in a real classroom, but if I had to stay online for hours at a time focusing on some class, I definitely would not be able to do it. I can picture myself sitting online on Friday night trying to focus on class and my friends telling me about something else going on that night. It would have been more than easy for to forget class and go out to have fun, especially if there was connection or technical problems with my online class; to stay online would seem ridiculous when I could be out having a good time.

Later on after a few years had passed I decided to go back to school because I can get a better paying job with a college degree. Online learning fit perfectly into my schedule and made me feel more comfortable leaning from the privacy of my home. I am a lot older now and take my education much more seriously than when I was a traditional college age.

Observing the life and environment on a traditional college campus with young students, has become a study within itself. There are numerous college professors who actually examined the behaviors of the 18-21 year old college student and then documented their results. Barrett Seaman is an accomplished writer, writing for publications such as Time Magazine; he also served as a trustee at his Alma matter Hamilton College . He had written previous books about college that just helped students in choosing a college. However he was curious about college life in today's society since it had been so long since he had been to college. To research young college life he visited several traditional campuses around the country and wrote the book titled Binge, Campus Life in an Age of Disconnection and Excess. What I found interesting was the interpretation of how young students studied and if they even studied at all. Right away he noticed the large social surroundings stating “Seeing the number of parties on campuses, the local bars jammed to the rafters on weekday nights, and the incredible amounts of time students spend on extracurricular activities, I wondered how much time these students were devoting to their studies (pg. 57).” With all of the activities you cannot really see where learning actually fits in; it's as if young students think of college as just a place to live without your parents and party and hang out with friends. The book also documents a typical schedule of a student “A Harvard junior, a varsity athlete with a B average, " and took me through her typical weeknight routine:

6:00 Dinner in the house dining room

6:30- 9:00 Hang out, study

9:00- 11:00 Pregame in someone's room (a few beers, a gin and tonic)

11:00 Head out to a bar or club nearby in Cambridge

2:00 Drop by a final club briefly after the bars close (pg. 59)”

This schedule included only a few hours studying but while he was studying he was hanging out, so actually how much real studying was going on. Even in a prestigious school such as Harvard there is a lot of drinking and partying happening and actual learning fits in between the social life. College is just not looked at as learning the most you can, taking advantage of the opportunity study under intelligent professors, instead it is seen as a four year long party learning optional.

Rebekah Nathan was an anthropology professor who had trouble understanding her students. She had been a teacher for over 14 years and wondered why her students would miss class or hand assignments in late. Since it had been so long ago that she was a student she realized she could no longer understand the mind of a student. Rebekah decided to study what college life was really like from living in a dorm to attending classes and social events. Her entire experience was documented and turned into a book titled My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by becoming a student. In this experience Rebekah enrolled as a freshman at a college she called AnyU; she also lived in a dorm so that she could grasp the whole mentality of a young traditional college student. Rebekah speaks of her first day on campus as sort of a surprise to her by stating “It dawned on me soon enough that I had gone through the looking glass, so to speak, and I was now privy to a world that students typically didn't share with me. I heard about weekend parties, and how someone wrote the paper drunk between 3 and 4:30 in the morning, and how unfair the grading was, and why did we have to take so many liberal studies courses anyway? The discourse I began to hear happened naturally in my shared status as student, and the difference in the content, formality, and tone of the dialogues struck me (pg. 3-4).” She was learning how most young college students put their social life before their studies. As a professor she would not have been able to see this, as clear because she was on the outside looking in, now she was a student so those were her peers thus allowing her to understand more clearly the mind of a young student.

As I was reading this book some things she described reminded me of my own college experiences. Most traditional American college campuses welcome freshman and create a fun atmosphere that builds excitement. Rebekah shared her first at college experience that was very similar to mine. She goes on to describe her first day and a campus tradition called “Welcome Week” describing it as “ a time when students participate in optional social, sports, and orientation activities prior to the start of classes. Printed calendars of events, along with informal flyers, posters that hung from the lobby rafters, and tiny strips of paper that appeared regularly under my door announced a plethora of dorm events and university activities that competed for student attention (pg.10).” All of these events that the college themselves promote make it very difficult for a student to want to attend class on time and participate or actually learn something while they are there.

One thing I found particularly interesting was a survey she conducted about cheating. This survey was basically trying to understand student's ideas about what they considered to be cheating. There were common answers such as “it depends on the situation” or what if it is class you never wanted to take in the first place”. Rebekah also asked the question; when is it okay to cheat? One student replied “If its an online class. Online courses suck (pg. 126).” That statement shows how a traditional aged college student feels about taking classes online. This student thought they were pointless and wouldn't recommend it. This goes back to my original claim; young traditional students lack the maturity for online learning. Some students can barely attend campus classes and obviously would not even take an online class serious enough to actually complete the work. Older more mature students over 25 view online learning as an option to complete their degree that would otherwise be unavailable.

Traditional young college students would have a difficult time adjusting to learning online, because most of them only see the Internet for fun. Young people grew up with the computer and Internet; they have constant access to email, games, instant messaging and other things that can be done online. Traditional students may use the computer for typing up papers or doing basic research for school, but to use it for learning and attending classes is a stretch. In a virtual college set up like NYU, you are required to be online for at least 3 hours each class. During class, you can hear the professor and other students, but you cannot see each other. This means that while virtual class is going on a student can be doing other things; either checking email, visiting porn sites, talking on the phone, watching TV, ect.

Virtual classrooms also encounter occasional technical problems, which take patience and persistence. A number of issues can take place like failed internet or high speed connection, microphone not working properly, these are things that can happen to the students or teachers. I myself have experienced the teachers being late or absent from class due to technical problems. Many young traditional students would not have the patience or desire to wait while an issue is being resolved. Most online classes meet in the evening or late hours to accommodate adult schedules, this time frame is when most young people like to hang out with friends or watch TV, not sit in a classroom. Technical difficulties would be just another excuse for young students not to attend class. Dealing with all the issues that come with online learning takes maturity that most traditional students still lack. Traditional young student still need to rely on teachers for the support they are no longer receiving from parents like mentoring and supervision.

In online learning there is no monitoring from the teachers, which gives this students a sole responsibility to listen and participate in class. In a regular college classroom, the instructor is in front of the class, so they can see if a student is not paying attention, sleeping, socializing with other classmates, or anything else. In a traditional college atmosphere students are able to make a transition without their parents, because initially the professors, counselors, or other staff at the college are able to step in for the parents as far as guidance. Parents send their kids of to college so they can be prepared for the real world; this is the first step for young students to understand life without parental help. For example in a traditional college campus students are between the ages of 18-21 and live in a dorm room on campus. A dorm is like an apartment, but in a dorm they have supervision like resident hall managers to make sure things stay in order and students are getting along. If a young student were to take their classes online they would not have this type of guidance. Attending college online means the students have the sole responsibility of adjusting alone.

So exactly what can be done for traditional aged college students who want to take online classes? I believe they should be required to write a personal statement, expressing in detail what they would contribute to an online class and why they are seeking online education. A personal statement about their role in online education is more valuable than just acceptance based on transcripts and test scores. Traditional colleges ask for previous grades and test scores and after acceptance students still party and drink or do what ever else they desire. The problem is they still don't take the college experience serious enough.

A probationary period should also me implemented, making it mandatory for students to prove that they will actually attend classes, participate, and complete assignments. The probation must be a minimum of a year or a semester depending upon academic standing. For instance students who excel with an A average the first semester can be taken off probation, provided that they remain on that level. Should students drop below a B average probation will begin again until their grades improve. After a year of maintaining a B average or better the probationary status ends permanently. In the chance that a students grades drop to a D or failing then a decision can be made not allowing a student to take online courses.

To assist students with succeeding in an online class, they can be assigned an advisor. This advisor is different from a regular advisor because it is solely for online learning. Unlike other advisors they will communicate with students on a consistent basis not just at the beginning of a new semester but during the entire academic year. They will make sure students are attending classes and will follow up on students who are not participating or whose grades are slipping. These advisors will also offer assistance and support for students struggling in their online classes. Young students need to be motivated into learning and their advisors will be there to help them. I feel it is necessary for students to have these advisors at least for the first two years of college online. It takes time to adapt to this kind of learning, this will assure that young students get as much support as possible.

With these implementations, I feel that young students will be more likely to excel in learning and take online education seriously. This will reduce the number of drop out students and the number of failing students as well. If these proposals are put in place I believe that traditional young students will be able to handle online courses just as well as an adult student.





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