Deep dive: online vs. traditional education

The numbers and advice from students

Deep dive: online vs. traditional education

Lizzy Smiley, Staff Writer

The use of technology is on the rise. It is everywhere and impacts almost every aspect of student’s lives–which is why it is not surprising that online education is becoming more and more popular.

Online education can be defined as “the creation and proliferation of the personal computer, the globalization of ideas and other human acts, and the use of technology in exchanging ideas and providing access to more people” according to Dr. Sabri Bebawi, an expert in online education.

Traditional education is defined as the “teacher-centered delivery of instruction to classes of students who are the receivers of information. Traditional schools generally stress basic educational practices and expect mastery of academic learning in the core subjects of math, reading, writing, science and social studies” according to Seattle Media.

The big question is what method of learning is best for students, online learning or learning in the traditional classroom setting?

Online learning at NDP

In high schools across the country today, online classes are increasingly more available to students who are interested in this style of learning.  

Students can find all levels of courses online, whether they need an advanced class such as AP Physics or a remedial class to address a subject area where they may be struggling.    

NDP began offering online classes through the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy in the 2015-16 school year to expand the variety of classes available to students. Since certain classes required teachers who are skilled in very specific areas, for example, Italian, online learning allows NDP to offer this sort of class without having to hire a teacher who is qualified to teach Italian.  

Currently, there eight students at NDP are taking part in the online learning program. The students are “given a study hall to complete the course work and it is up to the student to keep up with the course material” according to Principal Jerry Zander. The classes currently being taken by NDP students are AP Statistics, AP Micro Econ, and Italian 1 and 2.


Students’ Point of View

One student who is involved in online learning at NDP is senior Samantha Hertle. She chose to take an online course because the AP Statistics course she needed was not offered in the traditional classroom setting on campus.   

Hertle said she prefers learning in the traditional classroom rather than online learning. “I dislike that it’s not a real class. I need that ability to have face time with a teacher and the ability to ask questions more frequently because once I don’t understand one thing, I cannot understand the rest, and it’s hard because we only have a one-hour opportunity a week to ask questions. It’s easy to get behind.”  

Hertle also stated that “the most challenging thing about online learning is the lack of connection I have with the teacher.  It’s hard to be on the same page the majority of the time and it can be tough when I am struggling with the material.”

Students who prefer face-to-face interactions with classmates and a teacher are likely to struggle with online learning, according to Hertle.

On the other hand, senior Senior Caroline Strolic, who took AP Art History online through JVLA the summer prior to her senior year, said that in college she hopes to take some online classes because she likes the learning environment it provides since she felt more productive than she does in the classroom.

Her reasoning was that she could control the distractions. In the classroom, other students talk while the teacher explains concepts, and it is often difficult to focus. Online learning is a one-on-one experience with far less distractions she feels.

Strolic said, “Overall,  I learned a lot. The class was rigorous but interesting, and I enjoyed the online aspect of it because I was able to move at my own pace.”


Teacher Point of View

Mrs. Kandi Wojtysiak, the science department chair at NDP, teaches Physical Science and Astronomy in the traditional classroom setting. But this is not the only place she teaches.  

Ms. Wojtysiak was away from the classroom when her second child was born, but she said she wanted to do something to keep herself involved in teaching. She had a friend who was involved in online teaching at Rio Salado College who introduced her to this alternative style of teaching.

At Rio Salado, Ms. Wojtysiak teaches mainly adults who are working to get their teaching certification. She teaches classroom management and educational psychology.

Ms. Wojtysiak said she prefers online learning to a traditional classroom because of the informality and the fact that both she and her students can complete their work at times that are most convenient for them.  

She added that an upside to the live seminars used in online learning is that she has immediate access to all the information she needs at the tip of her fingers (literally), so she can address students’ questions quickly and accurately. She said this is more difficult to do so in a classroom setting when students are sitting in front of her.   

Ms. Wojtysiak said that she has been teaching online courses at Rio Salado College for nearly 16 years and has enjoyed every minute of it.  She said she is proud of her work at Rio because it is extremely competitive to get a job teaching online courses there.    

Online Learning Statistics

The U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics suggests that there were more than 1.3 million high school students enrolled in online education courses between 2009-10 which is an increase of over 1 million student enrollments from 2004-05.  

This 83 percent increase between 2002 and 2010 indicates that online learning has become more popular and available to students, but the question still remains:  which is better for students, traditional or online learning?

Online Benefits

There are many benefits to online learning that can explain its increased popularity, the most obvious benefit being the flexibility offered by online learning. Online courses allow students to complete the course work at a time and place that is most convenient for them as opposed to having to be at a specific place at a specific time to participate in traditional classroom learning.   

Online learning is used by many student athletes whose training requires that they travel regularly or be available to practice at various times throughout the day–or by students who have medical difficulties that prevent them for attending class in a traditional classroom setting. For these type of students, flexibility is key.

One of the more interesting issues when comparing traditional and online learning is in relation to social interaction. In an online class, most, if not all, interaction happens through a video interface rather than face-to-face. This can be beneficial for some because they are able focus more since they are not distracted by the other students in the traditional classroom setting.

Also, the limited social interaction found in the online learning environment may be beneficial for a student who struggles with relationships that come with being in a traditional classroom setting with their peers.  

Online Survey of NDP Students

In an online survey using Google docs, 27 NDP students who responded voiced their opinions about online learning versus traditional classroom learning.  When asked if they had ever taken an online course in high school or middle school, 85 percent of students responded they had not.  Of the 15 percent that had taken an online course, the classes they took are those offered at NDP via the JVLA including AP Art History, Cell Biology, AP Statistics and Geometry Honors.  

When these same students were asked to rank the benefits of online learning, 44.4 percent chose self-paced learning as the No. 1 benefit. The next benefit they ranked as important was flexibility and convenience at 22 percent.

In the survey, the students were also asked to rank the common drawbacks to online learning, with 51.9 percent selecting the statement that “online courses make it easier to procrastinate” as the most common, suggesting that students who choose online learning need to be self-motivated to keep up with the work without having the type of reminders they may get in a traditional classroom setting.

After procrastination, the statement indicating “online courses might create a sense of isolation” was ranked as a concern among 29.6 percent of the students.  The drawback that concerned the students least was “online courses give you more freedom.”

In 2014 at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar, a company, Growth Engineering, shared the results of  a survey in a presentation called, “School in 2030.” It conducted the survey to predict what classroom learning in 2030 might look like. They found that “almost half the respondents believed that online content will become the number one most important source of knowledge by 2030.”

The survey also said that “when it comes to classroom learning, the role of teachers will change drastically from delivering knowledge to learners, to guiding and mentoring students through their individual learning journeys.”

Teachers and experts who participated in the survey believe that classroom learning will need to be personalized more to each individual student’s needs rather than using the same content for all learners.  


Do’s and Don’ts of Online Learning

Some NDP students know firsthand what it takes to be successful in an online course. A list of Do’s and Don’ts is one way to learn from their experiences.

Seniors Cassidy Mannier, Surrein Maniraju and Sam Hertle are all currently taking BC Calculus through JVLA. 

‘Do not’ expect an online course to have less homework, Strolic cautioned.

“People might think that online courses have less homework, but for the class I took, that was not the case.  We had homework every night, and we were assigned a lot of reading,” she said. “I underestimated just how much work I would have to do.”

Mannier recommends that you ‘do’ set reminders on your phone so that you can stay on task for any meetings or deadlines.  

She said a definite ‘don’t’ is to procrastinate. “Procrastination will kill you. I learned that first semester,” Mannier said. “You should be checking your course every day to make sure you’re not missing deadlines.”

She also said, “I usually try to get my work done on Sunday or Monday so that I don’t have to worry about it during the week because I will forget about it.” So, ‘do’ manage your time frequently.

Maniraju suggested that the best way to be productive and to succeed is to ‘do’ be consistent.  

He also said that it is important that you ‘do’ establish a relationship with your instructor so that they can help you out if you get behind or miss a meeting.

Surrein also stated that procrastination is definitely in the ‘dont’s’ list. He was able to say from his experience that teachers online typically have less sympathy than the teachers at NDP.

The Bottom Line

The increased popularity of online learning along with the benefits of flexibility, increased course choice and having more control over your learning environment would suggest that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. But is it a better method of learning for students?

The answer depends on the student. An online student must be able to learn independently, should be able to manage time extremely well and be highly motivated.  Also, online learners should not assume that online classes will be easier than one taken in the classroom since teachers tend to assign more reading to online students to make sure they are really engaged in the topic and learning the material.