Online courses have swept the nation in recent years. Starting as a convenient way for full-time workers to still be able to take classes, more and more people now earn their degrees without ever stepping in a classroom. The number of major universities using online courses has increased, and some states such as Michigan and Alabama even require high school students to take online courses in order to become more familiar with them.
While there is a definite increase in online courses, they have not yet begun to replace classrooms at the college level. However, with such a rapid increase in these types of courses, it is hard not to wonder if the benefits of online courses compare to that of a typical classroom.
Every student that attends Illinois State is likely all too familiar with ReggieNet. It has become a staple of nearly every class, an integral tool that allows for teachers to create assignments with ease and continue class debates and conversations on discussion boards. While ReggieNet has some great uses, it can never truly substitute the experience of a real classroom.
A major drawback that comes from taking online courses is the overall lack of peer interaction. While it is certainly possible to post on discussion boards and send emails, that is pretty much the extent of the communication between students.
During my own personal experience with online courses, I found communication with others to be artificial. I never really knew who I was responding to on the discussion boards, and it always felt a bit awkward. Without any sort of personal interaction, it is much more difficult to have comfortable conversations, leading to an overall lack of depth in the discussions.
Online courses also tend to be limited. While ReggieNet offers a wide variety of features, it can only do so much. My experience with online courses involved simply posting on a discussion board once in a while and submitting a few papers. There was never much interaction, as there really couldn’t be. Generally, the course was straight-forward, and while that course doesn’t necessarily reflect every online course, I do believe it is nearly impossible to create the same type of interaction that is found in a classroom.
What is likely the worst disadvantage of online courses, however, is the lack of personal teacher interaction. Communication with teachers is done only through email, which makes interactions very impersonal. I never really knew my professor that taught my online course, and my professor never knew me. As a result, I was not comfortable asking questions or seeking advice. My teacher was also never really able to challenge me or give me real feedback. Many students also feel this way, as teachers are often the biggest factor in how much one learns in a class.
“I don’t like online classes because I need that personal connection with a teacher,” Tim Sullivan, a junior history education major said.
The most enjoyable classes are always the ones with great teachers, and an online course that is taught by someone that is rarely met face-to-face, or not at all, doesn’t have the same effect.
Online courses can be useful, and sometimes have to be taken due to schedule conflicts. They can also be a good way of accumulating extra credits during the summer. However, online courses almost never create the same feel as a real class. The classes that have a lasting impact are the ones with great teachers. Online courses can’t have the same impression on a student as a truly engaging teacher can.
Due to their rapid growth, online courses will likely be a major part of education in the future. While online tools like ReggieNet can be great supplements to a class, hopefully it will never start to replace real classes. They simply don’t have the same impact. Online courses should be taken only when necessary, as one will likely learn more if they are in a real classroom.
Nick Ulferts is a junior english education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to email@example.com.