As teachers and schools move to online education and away from a strict traditional education environment, what are the key differences between these two approaches to teaching and learning.
What is online education?
Online learning takes place over the internet and is a form of distance learning. It can be teacher lead at a specific time (synchronous) or student-paced working through the material unguided (asynchronous). Content can be delivered as text, images and video, and features could include online assessment or interactive activities.
What is traditional education?
Traditional education occurs in a classroom with a teacher who plans and presents a particular topic lesson. The teacher can use various educational tools such as introducing information on a chalk or whiteboard, student presentations, group or partner work, and individual exercises or activities. Class quizzes or informal assessments can be held and homework assignments set.
What is the difference between online learning and a traditional classroom setup?
There are several critical differences between online and traditional classes. These are vital factors students consider when they choose one or the other.
Discipline and self-motivation
A traditional classroom set-up provides a structured timetable for classes. You need to attend a class at a specific time or miss the lesson and the teacher’s information (there may also be other repercussions!). Motivation to learn comes from the teacher, whose task is to present information to the students in an engaging manner and fellow students who may discuss course content together before or after class. In an online education environment, the student sets the pace of learning. They need to be disciplined enough to set aside time each day to focus on completing course content.
In some cases, they must complete all components in an online course by a specific date. In other cases, this is open-ended. While there may be online discussion forums for students taking an online course, or the ability to video conference or instant message with other students, the student must motivate themselves to continue and complete their studies online.
A traditional class takes place at a specific location and a set time. Students are given a timetable of their classes for the week, and the teacher will expect them to attend the course at the specified time. If they miss it, the students will have missed the teacher’s lesson. There may be an opportunity to catch up on some work, but this catch-up work will, in most cases, not be of the same standard as the lesson presented. In some situations, if the student misses too many set classes, they might not be allowed to write the final exam. This time dependency makes the traditional education approach difficult for some students with outside commitments, such as family or work. In these cases, the online education approach provides much-needed flexibility. Students can log into a course at any time of the day or night and complete the course content at their own pace. They will receive the same lesson content as other students completing the course and not be penalized if they don’t log in simultaneously. Communication in these courses can be asynchronous via, for example, an online forum, where students can leave messages and reply to other students at any point. Students can fit in their learning as and when they have the time for courses without a set completion date. Most online courses have set completion requirements such as reading or viewing all material and completing an online assessment and not set times spent online. This means the flexibility offered by online learning is ideal for students who have full-time jobs or might need to care for a family member.
If you live in a small town in a developing country, you may not have access to a wide array of educational options. Similarly, if you are interested in studying a specialized subject or with a particular teacher, you might need to move to a city or town the school is located. Online learning solves this problem. Someone in a village in India and a suburb of London can access the same content online (assuming access to devices and the internet). This decouples location from the learning experience.
One of the main benefits of a traditional classroom environment is the interaction with the teacher and fellow students. Informal discussions, as well as group work and classroom interactions, can be called social learning. In an online learning environment, teachers can replicate these interactions through forums or breakaway rooms for group work; however, the informal interactions in the classroom, corridor or break room are difficult to recreate online. Some students also report feeling isolated when taking online classes as it is sometimes tricky studying via a screen and browser at home or work.