The debate to compare the differences and similarities between online and traditional learning environment is as old as 1999. After all, this was when institutes started to include the Internet as a medium for “distance education”. And while differences still exist, we must realize that the differences are being narrowed down due to the prevalent emerging technologies. But how do traditional and online learning formats actually differ, and what can you expect from a transition to eLearning?
The decision whether to study online or in a traditional environment is not as conflicting as before. Online learning is no longer the “easy way out”, as one might have thought in the past. In fact, online learning environments are more rigorous.
A person can be physically present in the classroom, but mentally absent, and no one would know. But in an online environment, especially during live discussions, each participant has to be mentally present to progress towards the learning goal of the discussion. Let alone the fact that most learners express themselves better in text form than in verbal form.
Of course, there are many other differences between the traditional and the online learning environment that will be discussed in this article. But this comparison is to be emphasized both on the instructor and the student who are crossing over from a traditional learning environment to eLearning, to enable them to fine-tune their expectations from the eLearning environment.
Online Learning can be Synchronous & Asynchronous
Synchronous or LIVE activities are real-time activities that require the online presence of all learners and the instructor. These activities involve commenting and forming opinions on a concept presented by the instructor. This is very similar to a traditional class discussion activity.
The instructor puts forth an argument and the learners participate in the debate. The instructor also moderates and redirects the conversation towards the desired goal. But they do not correct any language semantics used by the learners. Similarly, in the online environment, the instructor reminds the eLearners to stay on topic, but refrain from correcting their typed language.
The difference in this aspect lies in the capability to hold a similar discussion in an asynchronous environment. Learners and instructors log in at their convenience and add their comments (according to the commenting rubric). The instructor and peers provide feedback on their own schedule. This creates a self-paced learning environment. Hence, it is no longer about who knows the most at the current time, rather, who prepared the most for a given time.
This format is highly favorable for adult learners who juggle work and home, and enjoy the flexibility of submitting their opinions online. The quality of discussion might also prove to be greater than live discussion, simply due to the fact that we reveal more and form better ideas, when we write.
A greater deal of self-direction and discipline is required for a successful online education. These characteristics can be instilled or stimulated in the learner through several personal development tutorials. The learner holds greater responsibility towards their learning. They are conscious of their time and schedule, and try to meet deadlines they have signed up for, by accepting the course.
A traditional learning environment, on the other hand, does not require a similar degree of self-discipline nor is it flexible in terms of deadlines and class meeting times.
Online Learning has greater Reading Requirements
A lot is said and done in a traditional classroom through language, facial expressions, and body language. To make up for such clues and ideas, online courses have greater reading requirements.
It is safe to project that the online learning environment is a 100% reading environment. For first, the instructor posts a lesson and related readings. Moreover, the assignment has more directions and a deadline to adhere to. As for the learners, they complete the assignment and upload it to the learning management system.
By contrast, a traditional environment has a lecture in progress that is recorded through notes. Presentations can also be made face-to-face. But in an eLearning environment, reading and writing are the main activities. Polishing writing skills is mandatory in an online endeavor. Furthermore, interacting with peers and an instructor requires emotional writing skills that portray the message as accurately as possible.
A particular consideration in this setting is the quality and response time for feedback given by instructors. In a traditional setting, feedback is prompt. But in an online setting, feedback can take at least 24 hours. This lag time can be shortened if the instructor enables at least 4 peers to comment on an assignment. The instructor then provides feedback in the end, and this way, the learner feels a greater sense of community support.
Online Learning requires Digital Literacy
A traditional classroom setting requires physical presence and communication skills. But an online environment requires tech savviness. Learners should be able to navigate, evaluate and create information using a variety of technologies. They should be able to use basic word and numerical processing software.
While this does not mean that the learner should be fluent in programming languages, they are required to adapt to emerging applications and information management trends readily.
One helpful strategy for the online instructor is to provide tutorials on how to use an emerging technology tool that is required to create an assignment. The instructor can also offer several software options to choose from in order to create the assignment.
Successful online students are prepared for the dynamic technical environment and strive to enhance their expertise in using technical tools.
A great way to introduce technology in an online environment is to create a social media page for the course. The instructor can, for example, create a Facebook page of the course and invite all learners as “friends”. This will break the technology ice for the less confident learners, and encourage them to collaborate freely with peers. Also, the introverts in the course will be able to express ideas better as compared to a traditional networking scenario.
Don’t forget that the best thing about online collaboration is the vast volume of peers that can be reached out for opinions and feedback.
The Instructor becomes a Mentor in Online Learning
In a traditional classroom setting, the instructor is a dominant authority, the know-it-all, the one who leads the learning process. In an online classroom, however, this authority shifts towards a mentor who guides on the side.
Reduced instructor supervision leads to increased student autonomy, and let’s not forget that online learning is all about individualized learning. This is the leading difference and advantage of eLearning vs traditional learning. The learner experiences a one-on-one, tailored instruction that is not possible in the traditional environment. A shift from a curriculum-centered to a learner-centered environment makes eLearning a winning proposition.
eLearning presents a ton of advantages over traditional formats of training. This fact is even more so true for busy professionals, who are pressed for time and responsibilities. And with the always-on, always-connected culture most businesses embrace, online learning will soon become the standard method of learning.