As the world emerges from the pandemic, a new reality is taking shape: one in which online education is more important than ever. While far from a new concept, the pandemic era has accelerated and focused our thoughts that education needs to be more flexible. Advances in technology are playing an increasingly important role as educators seek ways for their students’ learning experience not to just mimic traditional classrooms but rather better prepare professionals for today’s modern workplace.
Traditional bricks and mortar university degrees have been a staple of careers like law, financial management, marketing, health care, and others for decades. What’s changed during that time is how universities and private schools are offering their classes. Now, whether studying at a prestigious private college or an established state university, students can pursue their studies through online or face to face programs—or some combination of both.
While online programs allow for more flexibility in students’ schedules, face to face programs offer students more personalised coursework and the opportunity to take full advantage of internships, networking, and other career resources.
Weighing the opportunity cost of quitting a job and forgoing a salary to enrol in a traditional, in-person program against the option of maintaining employment while completing an online program is a difficult decision for some prospective students.
Here are the five biggest differences between online and traditional programmes that will help you decide.
Timelines & Timetables
The biggest and most obvious difference between online and face to face programmes is the rigidness of the timetable. Traditional programme delivery adheres to a strict timetable with students required to attend classes, submit assessments and sit examinations at set times – often with penalties for missed classes and late submissions.
Online students are able to finish coursework at their own pace each quarter or semester, which means they could complete their programme at the ‘full-time’ pace or extend their timeline to suit their schedule. Online students can focus on their studies at a time that works best for them – this is particularly relevant for shift workers and those that work unsocial hours. Some students study best during the early mornings, while night owls thrive when burning the midnight oil!
Financial & Geographic Barriers
Online programs remove common financial and geographic barriers to enrollment that traditional education programmes maintain.
As more schools offer the opportunity to pursue an online education experience without requiring students to commit to an in-person education, students are forced to consider whether they actually need to pull out of the workforce to do so. Combining work and study and having the option of avoiding the necessity to leave a paying job removes an often insurmountable financial barrier for many students.
Another massive decision intending students of traditional education have to face is the necessity to relocate to the university or college locality. Once again there is mounting evidence to suggest that the costs of paying for separate accommodation and living away from home often proves an invincible financial barrier to further education for many students.
This has led to another advantage for online education students, online programmes have seen a trend to more diverse classes—including higher numbers of women, underrepresented minorities and geographical spread. This in turn makes it more attractive for companies actively recruiting as they are looking for diversity and now more likely to find it in the online graduate pool rather than the traditional one.
The people who benefit most from a face to face education are those who want to shift careers. Say I’ve worked in marketing. I’ve decided I want to work in finance. How do I make that pivot? Well If I’m in a brand management job, that’s really tough to do. If I go to business school I get the training. I spend my summer internship at a finance job, then I can make that jump easier.
Another advantage is that in general traditional programmes offer students more opportunity to adapt the courses they take to what they need to learn. You get a little bit more course selection, a little bit more opportunity to pick and choose your experience in the traditional space. You are locked into having to do it Monday through Friday. You’ve got to live in the college locale. You give up a lot of things for that customisation.
For those seeking a career change and still favour the benefits of online, should consider online bootcamps. Many of these have internship arrangements built into their programmes. Other online providers work with expert industry advisory groups to validate learning content to ensure the syllabus contains the most up-to-date skills, core competencies and knowledge needed by prospective employers. Assessments are often practical allowing students to build up a portfolio to be able to demonstrate to prospective employers that they have completed the re-skill journey successfully.
It can be argued that online schedules are best for students who intend to continue working in their same field post studies. If you want to make faster strides in the career that you have, then an online programme makes more sense. The advantage being you don’t have to take off from work. You don’t have the added expense of relocating to the university town. You’re still earning your salary. It’s much more convenient.
Traditional students trade off schedule and location flexibility for degree customisation. Still, in most cases the overall content of online and full-time programs is similar.
Want to make a bigger impact in your career?
Because many online students work while completing their degrees, they don’t typically move directly into a new job upon graduation. Instead, online graduates look to increase their salaries through promotions afforded them through their newly minted qualification.
Most full-time graduates, however, are seeking new jobs with distinct starting salaries, which allows potential students to judge the value of a degree from one business school versus another. Nonetheless, the percentage increase in salary is typically greater for full-time programme graduates.
Many full-time programmes encourage and sometimes require students to participate in internships. While online students may seek out internships, most of these programmes don’t emphasise the experience as much.
As an online student you more likely have an existing career in what you want. Therefore, you don’t need that internship to make your entry into those new areas.
Still, resources like career service centres are available to online students in the same capacity as full-time students.
Additionally, online students don’t have the same experience as traditional students when it comes to networking among classmates. Many online providers implement occasional, mandatory events in person. These, for example, may include quarterly immersions where students are expected to meet in person for networking coaching, as well as academic content and career development opportunities.
While these events have not occurred during the pandemic, the expectation is that they will continue in future.
With a world full of opportunities opened up by technology and a new generation of professionals looking to build a better future, a flexible approach to education is the way forward. Online programmes conquer the rigid constraints of schedule and location that have been intrinsic to traditional education delivery for millennia. Many online providers offer industry relevant programmes at a convenient schedule and competitive price.
One lesson learned so far from the pandemic is that education cannot be totally dependent on delivery models bound to a specific time and/or location. Online programmes provide the opportunity for students to effectively balance their studies around their other life priorities. They don’t need to give up their jobs (and the annual income that goes along with those jobs) to earn a qualification. Online students can immediately apply what they learn in class to their jobs so they can put their education to work for them right away.
Advances in technology have allowed for faster broadband, interactive & adaptive learning platforms as well as gamification which allow greater flexibility when it comes down to both what we learn and the pace we choose to learn it at.
Traditional programmes offer structured cohort experiences that lend themselves to community and networking. Online students need to be more proactive in networking, but many appreciate the flexibility in choosing groups based on their interest or joining any one of the student organisations that support community building.
Online programme curriculums are flexible and accessible. Providers can easily add a new course in response to changing market needs. They can pull from a wider pool of subject matter experts from academia and industry who enjoy teaching students.
Traditional education is changing, many would say it has taken too long. While far from a new concept, the pandemic era has accelerated and focused our thoughts that education needs to be more flexible. The way we teach and learn must (and thankfully) is changing, albeit too slowly to keep pace.
The dust has barely settled from this pandemic but it’s not too early to start preparing for what comes next!
For further reading see our article where we discuss the different considerations when choosing an online course and course provider.