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College students in the twenty-first century have at least two options for obtaining the degree they want or want. One is a typical classroom atmosphere in which one attends classes, engages in live classroom debates, and interacts with other students at a well-established college or university. The other requires a different approach to this time-honored process. It is a world of immersive classes, debates, and experiences that can all be achieved from the convenience of one's own house, a peaceful park, or a coffee shop. Both methods of receiving a college degree have benefits and drawbacks. The choice of virtual versus live is one which each student must make for his or herself based on their situation in life. Some can attend a traditional college course and some prefer the flexibility which an online education can offer.
First, we will begin with the traditional, or “brick and mortar”, institutions as they are known. Although the experience of attending classes and everything else associated with this form of education have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, technology is creeping into the process as most institutions have their own website where you can accomplish most, if not all, of the registration process without setting foot on the campus itself. This innovation to the storied bedrock of higher education comes in a time when more and more of what ordinary people accomplish on a daily basis is taken care of in cyberspace. As more records and other documentation needed to register for classes becomes available in virtual form, the process just naturally lends itself to this technological update. This is not the only place which technology is being used for the benefit of students in the brick and mortar educational system. Almost all students now carry electronic devices which they use to record or take notes in class and compose the papers necessary for the completion of the studies. As a matter of fact, classrooms at traditional universities are becoming more environmentally friendly due to assistance from technology. Gone are the days when it was necessary to hand in hard copies of assignments on paper for the professor to check as it is now more convenient and quicker to send assignments to the professor’s email or other Internet storage devices such as cloud hosting sites.
However, the traditional classroom experience lives on at conventional educational institutions. Students still attend classes, lectures, and have meetings with their professors to assist and assess their performance in class. They still participate in classroom discussions and in-class projects and learn from the wisdom of their professor on a person-to-person basis which is quite attractive to some. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons that traditional institutions are still the most popular because of their personal interaction opportunities. The whole of the college experience for some rests solidly on the interactions with other students, staff, and faculty and makes for a well-rounded educational experience.
Inasmuch as conventional institutions of higher learning are still the standard for most in the attainment of their educational goals, they do come with some disadvantages which make them a burden for some in this fast food culture that we all live in. To attend an established brick and mortar institution requires a substantial commitment not only in academic effort but also in time. To be able to attend classes alone can sometimes take up the majority of someone’s daily activity time and add to that the commute to and from campus and time spent doing out-of-class assignments and you get a substantial investment in time and energy. For people who have to work and attend classes, this is sometimes overwhelming and cannot be accommodated in the time allotted in their weekly schedules.
This brings us to the subject of the virtual learning environment being offered from a growing number from a number of institutions of higher learning around the country and, indeed, around the world. In contrast to long-established institutions, the new version of educational pursuit offers more flexibility in scheduling which is a factor driving the increase of these institutions. Classes are offered online for a number of areas, some of which have very lucrative job prospects especially ones that deal with information technology and cybersecurity which are of paramount importance these days to everyone from the individual user all the way up to the federal government. There is also a myriad of other subjects from traditional liberal arts to all the technological areas which have sprung up in the last 20 years as a result of the new computer and technological age.
In the simplest terms, a virtual classroom means that you will log into the website hosting your particular institution, click on your classroom and have access to all the institutions resources and your professor from your home computer, laptop, and a growing number of portable devices like the iPad and Smartphones. There is a section of your classroom homepage for you to be able to contact your professor by email or instant message according to a schedule set up by the professor, much like a person-to-person situation. There is also a section where the professor communicates to you your assigned readings, your syllabus, and all the other usual materials required for completion of assignments and other classwork including required reading materials. Although in the virtual classroom, most of the required readings or textbooks used are not physical books anymore but are electronic, or e-books. Assignments themselves are usually given out on a weekly basis with deadlines just as you would find in an establish college or university setting. Term papers, dissertations, and other longer term assignments are again handled in basically the same way as expected for colleges or universities. The difference being, you are in charge of the schedule provided you meet all the deadlines set by your professor.
Having listed a lot of advantages to the virtual classroom environment, it is necessary to list some of the disadvantages. First, and foremost, you are cut off from the regular interactions that are afforded to those who attend class on-campus. You never see your professor, unless he/she has a picture of themselves posted on their faculty profile, and you never get to personally interact with your classmates, although interaction is possible and sometimes required through the use of Skype, Snapchat or other applications to complete tandem projects or other interactive assignments. To some, this lack of interaction is a deal-breaker when it comes to choosing whether to attend online or regular classes. Some people are just naturally people persons who require the interaction which conventional classes provide. Another disadvantage to online colleges and universities is that some of them, although fully accredited similarly to brick and mortar institutions, do not carry the weight of some of the more established colleges and universities when it comes to competing in the job market. Although the major universities and colleges now also offer their own virtual learning environments, the majority of the market is still dominated by startups and less well-known institutions. These organizations in most cases provide as much of a quality education as more well-established campuses but lack the “name recognition” that comes along with being Harvard, Stanford, or Georgetown Universities. Also, in the eyes of some in the business world, many of the lesser known institutions are seen as “diploma factories” who care less about their academic credentials than they do the bottom line.
In the end, the choice of whether to attend an established and traditional brick and mortar college or university or to attend one of the newer online colleges or universities is a matter of preferences an individual must weigh against one another in order to decide which choice is best for them in the long run. Some in today’s busy world prefer the flexibility that the online college or university offers. These institutions offer options which a traditional organization like Harvard or Stanford cannot offer. Whatever option an individual chooses to pursue, several factors are likely to be weighed and measured against one another before the final decision is made. If name recognition is important in what you plan to accomplish with your educational goals then attending an established institution of higher learning could be what fits you personally. However, if your choices are more liberal, then the tractability of an online education just might be right for you. The important thing to remember in all of this, is that whatever option you choose, to get the most out of the experience will require maximum personal effort on your part to make it a success.
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