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Online Or In Class: The Shifting Educational Paradigm

In a fast-moving world, online education gives learners the opportunity to take control of their own education. However, it can have both positive and negative ramifications. Photo by Dr. Starbuck.

The contribution of technology to education has opened many options and higher education didn’t let go the advantage, especially because these open the possibility of reaching more students with the new resources available. That’s why for some countries, such as India, widespread online education has become a viable goal, while in places like the United States this proposal is up against already-competitive academic options.

However, the change of scenario brought questions and changes which have not all been able to understand. One of the most obvious refers to the role of the professor in the teaching-learning process, since the online education requires professors technologically prepared for the design and delivery of courses.

Professors who worked many years with traditional strategies and change to online courses can find difficult the cross over, even if they have conceptual experience, communication can be a challenge.

Adult education is a good candidate for the use of online education. In this case, adults depend on particular schedules and other activities. This is one reason online education can be a good option to some persons, while others, can feel better with some formal structure. At the end, there is not the perfect model, students will adapt to different conditions.

For many students, usually there is a misconception that online education is simpler, because they can control the time dedicated to their learning. However, this modality has proven to be much more demanding in time, concentration, cognitive requirements and metacognitive goal because it has the great advantage of having around resources like the internet. Although they can benefit from the search for information and give broader answers to different problems, is also true that the student should have greater capacity for analysis and synthesis of the same to determine which information is relevant for the resolution of problems without relying on aid or availability of a professor.

Some current proposals for effective online delivery are recording conferences or courses and delivering them through iTunes to reach more students. This implies a multicultural, globalized vision of the design of a subject or class. Unlike in-class, where a single teacher can have direct contact with a limited number of students per class in a regular classroom, in the online forum students can have access to programs when they need it.

In this regard the role of the student is modified too, because in online education—even if allows contact with teacher and peers around the world—communication is asynchronous, and for the teacher implies management of media, and while they seek to create efficient contact, sometimes the options are limited. Currently the use of video conferences has increased, but it implies that all users coincide in time.

Whatever option is chosen, there is no doubt that at the center of education will continue to be the professor, with their teaching experience, charisma and ability to motivate the student for the execution of tasks that allows them to acquire the knowledge. This is a reason why teachers, in any form, should ensure the development of skills that enable them to be in one or another educational scenario.

In a study conducted in 2002, through a meta-analysis, it was found that 232 studies conducted with students in classrooms and online students online, students working on line have less retention of information, but more analysis abilities than students taking similar classes in a classroom. Apparently the comparisons made so far in different parts of the world, only prove that both options have different characteristics of the analysis of the information and the execution of tasks, but it is not possible to determine whether one is better than the other, because they depend on both pupils and teachers skills to ensure the success, and the history of the traditional education shows that there will always be a normal curve of execution in any educational program.

Resources for one or another form of course, are different. It is no longer only the design of a textbook, but the opportunity to vary in any form of teaching resources. However in the case of online education, is important that students have a good internet connection and if they know how to maximize the advantages offered by the technology.

In this sense, authors as Crampton and Ragusa, note that while the students now have more resources available for their learning process, they also occupy more time looking for options for the elaboration of work, which may be a bad option when there is no experience to optimize time and resources.

In this sense the activities with multiple resources are not necessarily an advantage for students who have not developed skills multitasking or a good analysis of information. But the distractions can occur in any modality. Finally self-regulatory capacity not only develops in schools.

There is an option that can be called hybrid—or blended—which includes technological toys in the classroom. However, there is a complaint from educators that when you open this possibility because students use technological gadgets for other purposes. For example, there are known stories of students who buy lingerie during class, instead of catering to the links proposed by teachers to work certain topic.

A point to consider are the economic advantages that online education can give because education in the classroom requiring the presence of the student and the teacher in a site, which leads to environmental pollution, the economic burden this entails and of course the limitation for those students who do not have the necessary resources. However, pollution is also presented with the use of the equipment and the production of them. That is why that online education may not necessarily be considered an ecological option.

Finally, education as an institution also has to do with the State, and in this sense, one of the biggest problems facing online education is the accreditation of programs, which in some countries makes online learning seem as a second-class education. Before the demand too great for these programs, there are some that aren’t properly accredited or that do not allow external evaluation, so it casts doubt its quality.

Even when some groups can bet for online education, there is always something to say about traditional education. And it’s the fact most of us survive and succeed on it. Can we cross the bridge? No doubt! But more options can open the State, more students will feel good reaching their goals.

When someone makes me the question about what option is best, I usually answer both opportunities, but at the end it will be the student who decides to take advantage of them.



Bernard, R., Lou, Y., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Wosney, L., Wallet, PA., Fiset, M. and Huang, B. (2004) How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of empirical literature.  Review of Education Research. 74 (3) 379-439.

Crampton, A., Ragusa, AT., and Cavanagh, H. (2012) Cross-discipline investigation of the relationship between academic performance and online resource access by distance education students. Research in Learning Technology. 20. 14430 – DOI: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14430.

Lewin, T. (2011) The evolution of higher education. The New York Times: Education Life. Available at:

Volery, T., and Lord, D. (2000) Critical success factors in online education. International Journal of Educational Management. Vol. 14 (5) 216 – 223.

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