Education has undergone significant changes because of the development of information and communication technology over the 21st century (Lin & Jou, 2012:2). As a convenient and inexpensive way to gain knowledge while pursuing higher education, online learning, a form of training or teaching that takes place over the Internet, has been considered as an alternative to traditional classroom learning (Zhang et al, 2004). This essay will argue that even though online learning has benefit such as flexibility which could outweigh traditional learning, traditional classroom learning might still not be entirely replaced.
This essay will discuss positive and negative aspects of online and traditional learning in terms of four criteria: flexibility and time management, freedom of speech and deeper learning, interaction and students’ perspectives. In conclusion, the author suggests a blended learning with both advantages of online learning and traditional learning are combined (Paechter & Maier, 2010:296). The “anytime, anywhere” aspect of online learning is the most significant advantage over traditional classroom (Arbaugh, 2004:171, cited by Brandon & Hollingshead, 1999; Dede, 1991; Harasim, 1990).
Learners can process material at any time from any place (Paechter & Maier, 2010:296, citied by Artino & Stephens, 2009; Narciss et al, 2007). For students who cannot afford to take away from their time-dependent jobs, online programs provide flexibility in time and pace of study so that they are able to work meanwhile maintaining the universities’ academic commitment (Sharpe & Benfield, 2005; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013).
Moreover, by accessing a learning management system such as Moodle, Blackboard, course website, students can achieve clarity about their course information like assignments, test dates to the full extent (Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013:181). On the other hand, online learning could be time-consuming since additional time and efforts needed to use online technologies and software. Based on the date of 45 students’ online experiences at Nottingham Trent University, Cramphorn (2004) explored time is the most common concern for online course students.
Physical writing time, time lag, time needed to reflect on posts are mentioned by most of the participants. Furthermore, lacking clarity about course expectations, underestimating time needed to complete tasks make online course challenging (Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013:177, cited by Beaudoin et al, 2009; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Palloff & Pratt, 2001). It seems that lots of students are not able to manage their time properly and still need guidance from a teacher (Zhang et al, 2004).
Secondly, it is widely believed that online learning enables a certain freedom of speech and offer a deeper learning approach by requesting students to think critically and encouraging a wide range of ideas, a better understanding of the materials. Students feel free to speak out or criticize without direct contact with others through online learning, whereas some were reporting concerns about the written, permanent record and criticizing others’ work openly (Sharpe & Benfield, 2005; cited by Macdonald, 2003).
A typical example is that a postgraduate student withdrew from an online course because he felt his English level was being exposed as too weak. Moreover, online learning was viewed as more collaborative than classroom learning, due to the lower profile role played by tutors (Sweeney et al, 2004:319). It moved the focus away from the tutor to the participants so that students can play an active role in their own learning.
Undeniably, online learning may be inspiring; nevertheless, not all students are self-determined to manage it, and they may not be able to comprehend information without further explanation from a teacher (Zhang et al, 2004, cited by Meyer, 2003). Unlike classroom learning which direct assistance would be provided by the tutor and classmates, students who are not highly self-motivated or have poor study habits, may find it difficult to stay up with the required work and fall behind.
Compared to classroom learning, the interaction occurring at online courses is more international. Learners can develop online conversations on forums and interview other students around the world by using web-conferencing technology (Kruger-Ross and Waters, 2013:182). However, it is reported that students prefer face to face contact directly with the tutor who was seen as the focal point of learning, a channel through all interaction that connects ideas, builds understanding, provides feedback and gives summary immediately (Sweeney et al, 2007:316).
Additionally, establishing social relations may need classroom environment (Paechter & Maier, 2010:295). Classroom teaching and learning is a complex, multilayered, and social experience, which develops friendship, connection and satisfaction among students. Social community is considered to be relatively poorly experienced in online learning due to learners’ disconnection and could probably cause isolation (Baturay & Bay, 2010:44).
Although the application of online learning has increased rapidly, little is known about students’ perspectives and preferences. Students, as participants in the educational process, play an important part in the learning environment and have a good vantage point that should be given adequate attention (Fraser, 1998; Houston ; Bettencourt, 1999). As the data shown in the research carried by Zhang et al (2004) at a high school in New Orleans, 56. 1% of the students would recommend the online course they took to other students. 0. 7% of students would try another online course in the future. On the other hand, there was a fact that 62. 6% of the students cannot keep up with the assignments and tests because they were not able to get a clear understanding of the topics. According to the data, 72. 9% felt it is easier to finish the assignments and pass the tests after having the guidance of a teacher.
79. 4% admitted they were learning more and having a better understanding of what was expected for them in the traditional class. Overall, 74. % preferred the traditional form of learning over online learning. In conclusion, the majority of the participants in this study were uncomfortable with their online courses, they did not seem to gain the same amount of knowledge as they did in the traditional classroom. As this essay has discussed, online learning seems to require large amounts of patience, motivation, dedication and general knowledge of computer use and might not be suitable for all students (Zhang et al, 2004, citied by Meyer, 2003).
Even though online learning has been and may continue to be on an exponential upward trend (Kruger-Ross ; Waters, 2013:176, cited by Allen ; Seaman, 2007), it is noteworthy that traditional classroom-based learning still plays an important role in the education field and could not be replaced by online learning completely. In terms of aspects considered, a more basic and simplified approach appears to be recognize the positive ways of online learning and try to find a correct balance between the use of two kinds of learning styles the use of both.