As a generation growing up in the digital age, a lot in our lives are reformed and challenged by technology. With its various inventions and features it has been methodically integrated into every part of our everyday lives to such an extent that it feels as vital to our functioning as a hand or a foot.

One of the many sectors of our lives it has noticeably changed is the way we are educated. Technology, specifically the internet, has infiltrated and gifted our education system, which plays a crucial part in our development and progress in life, with vital innovations that have made it more accessible to the public. 

To begin with, the use of the internet has managed to create a broader learning environment. Teachers can collaborate with their colleagues from other countries or continents and share resources and materials online that enrich a student’s learning experience. Both teachers and students have access to a vast amount of data and students are given the chance to develop their researching skills at a younger age by researching information and learning how to filter through them.

With such huge potential, it is not surprising that online learning continues to gain popularity and has almost become a trend nowadays. Platforms such as Khan Academy, edX, Cousera and The Great Courses offer various courses for aspiring learners. Some students even opt for online learning as the main form of education instead of following the traditional way of learning, by enrolling in schools or universities. According to research by Allen and Seaman (2017), of all students taking at least one online class, almost half (48%) are enrolled only in online programs.

So why do learners prefer online learning than traditional on-campus education? Does its benefits outweigh on-campus education?

In Best Colleges’ 2019 Online Education Trends Report , it was revealed that for the third year in a row, the convenience and flexibility offered by online programs topped the list of reasons.

Remember the times you slept through your alarm and were so stressed about being late to that 9am lecture? You dashed out into the street only to be stuck on the pedestrian crossing because the traffic lights stayed green for what seemed like forever. And then you finally get to the lecture room, wiping away the beads of sweat on your forehead, check the time and it’s 9.15am; you were still late. 

With online learning, there is never a fixed schedule which enables you to join the ‘class’ and begin studying at a time that is more suitable or can be adjusted to your lifestyle. This means no rush in the morning and no more nodding off during lectures. 

In addition, it is a great way to save money as commuting fees would decrease or no longer exist when the need to get the bus or tram to school is no longer there. (We all hate watching the bus fare increasing year by year.)

Another advantage of online learning is that you have a broad range of subjects or skills to choose from as the internet is similar to an enormous auditorium with countless stands advertising courses. So, you feel your course isn’t fulfilling? Or what you are interested in isn’t offered on campus? Create an account on an online learning website (or multiple if you want to!) and you have  plenty of resources. (Of course your wallet might complain a little.)

Last but not least, it is a self-paced learning. You can choose to complete the tasks at your own pace and set up your own learning schedule. Everything is designed to work according to your needs. No more anxious feelings of falling behind your fellows, your biggest competition is yourself. You obtain knowledge by your own pace and you get to focus on your own studies. 

However, every coin has two sides. Some disadvantages of online learning include a lack of interaction with other people as this is not a class filled with students to interact with but an online program in your computer, and the concern that the online learning institution might not be accredited.

Several online learning websites have started to include interactive sessions in their courses, for example, a discussion with teachers and fellow learners. Yet, can these interactions be the same as face-to-face ones? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a discussion and to understand what your teachers and peers have to express while they are in the same classroom as you? 

As for course providers not being accredited, in reality it shouldn’t be a problem since lots of top universities are providing online courses. However, would it be the same experience as enrolling in these universities? Definitely not. Students at universities have someone to refer to should they have any problems or need help with their course. This might not be the same for online learning students. You may have no idea who to turn to when needed and, when something is not clearly explained, you might not get a sufficient answer quickly since you cannot just email or find your lecturer or professor immediately. 

The quality of instruction and academic support could also be potentially unsatisfying. While there are a variety of courses available, their quality is not guaranteed by anyone so you never know if you are getting your money’s worth. According to the report, among the students who reported concerns regarding online learning, this reason topped the list.

Undoubtedly, with the advance of science and technology, online learning has become an easily accessible alternative form of education with huge potential. It offers a level of convenience and flexibility which is crucial to learners living in this fast-paced society. Yet it is lacking in aspects that traditional learning can only offer, such as socialising and hands on teachers. Will online learning replace traditional on-campus education one day? Or will traditional on-campus education continue to thrive and complement with online learning? Only the future holds the answer.

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