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Online vs on-campus: Which is right for you?

In the past, attending college was almost exclusively a regional decision. You chose among the schools available in your area as transportation time and costs made it unrealistic for most people to attend college far away. For the past two or three decades, people have viewed college as a national or even international decision. Now, there are even more options with the availability of online programs, which can allow a student to attend class from any location in the world and still receive the highest quality of education.

Despite all of the benefits, an online program is not for everyone. At the same time, students who have not done well in traditional classrooms are finding success in online education. How can you know which one is right for you?

First, let’s look at demographics because the kind of person you will likely meet in an online course is different from the group of students you will typically encounter in a traditional classroom. According to a study by the University of West Georgia, most of the students in an online class will be professionals who are taking classes on a part-time basis (). The majority are either married or divorced and have children living at home.

This is not to say that a traditional student who is unmarried and under the age of 25 will not feel welcome in the course. Yet, it can make it more difficult to find similarities and establish friendships. On the other hand, if your lifestyle falls more into the demographics mentioned in the above paragraph, an online course can help you find a peer group more easily.

However, the most critical factor is learning style. Here is a basic list of learning styles.

Visual/Verbal – You prefer to learn information by reading.

Visual/Nonverbal – You learn best with visual information such as charts and graphs.

Auditory – You learn much more when the information is spoken to you, such as in a lecture.

Kinesthetic – You need to physically work with the information, such as a hands-on lab, in order to (literally!) grasp the topic.

The University of Illinois, a pioneer in online education as well as a pioneer in research regarding online education, advises its instructors to design their courses to meet the needs of all students. However, the limitations of both traditional and online classes means that some learners generally do better in one environment over others. Auditory learners usually perform best in traditional courses, and Visual/Verbal learners typically do best in online courses.

Knowing yourself is the key to choosing whether to pursue a fully online, partially online or traditional college program. Be realistic about your lifestyle, personality and expectations of the college experience and choose the one that’s right for you. 

If you’re not sure about your learning style, take a simple quiz online. As Edutopia highlights before their quiz, there’s no evidence that people have a discrete learning style and can’t learn from other methods. What we do know is that people tend to have learning preferences, so knowing your dominant learning style can help you choose your ideal path in education, either traditional or online.

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