There are several ways to earn a college degree these days. Students have the option to take classes though traditional programs in classrooms. They can take courses online through web-based universities or colleges. Students can also take blended courses, which combine face-to-face learning with the flexibility of online assignments. With these three options, how do students discover which learning environment is right for them?
Kenneth Hartman, the academic director for Drexel University Online, says students should do a self-assessment. "Before you assess a college or a given program, it behooves a student to assess themselves first," Hartman says. "They should do a thorough, deep and honest reality check, and find out who they are and how they are going to learn."
Hartman, along with other traditional and online professors and students, presented these five questions to help students determine their best learning environment.
1. What is your learning style?
"The best advice that I could give to students is to be honest to themselves about the learning environment in which they have had success in the past," says Hartman, who used to teach traditional graduate courses, and now teaches graduate courses online.
Students should discover their "learning styles," which can be auditory, visual or kinesthetic, says Susan Wegmann, an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida who used to teach traditional courses and now teaches online. Online learning involves visual and kinesthetic learning because you are reading a lot and typing information, says Wegmann, who won the 2009 Sloan-C Excellence in Online Teaching Award. Traditional classroom learning is best for auditory learners because most information is disseminated through lectures.
However, students can be successful in more than one type of learning environment. "A vast majority of students learn by interacting with other students and with an instructor," Hartman says. "You can do that interaction successfully in face-to-face, online or blended environments."
2. What is your time schedule and availability?
Traditional school programs are usually synchronistic, requiring students to physically attend class at a specific time. Whereas, many online programs tend to be asynchronistic, meaning students can complete the course work on their own time prior to due dates.
However, Tim Mason, a recent UCF graduate who took traditional, online and blended courses during college, says that just because online courses are flexible, doesn't mean they aren't deadline-focused. "People take online courses and think they'll be easy and flexible, but the work load may be more difficult. You'll still have deadlines, but you can choose the time of day to complete them."
3. What is your computer competency?
Amber Brehmer, a working mother and online student at Bryant & Stratton College, says students should also determine their computer proficiency. In both online and traditional programs, assignments are typed out, and students need to know basic programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, and know how to use the Internet, she says.
4. Are you self-motivated and organized?
Students who are very self-motivated and well organized tend to be particularly successful in online programs because they are student-driven environments, says Catherine Flynn, an online professor at Kaplan University who used to teach traditional courses.
Flynn also recommends self-motivated students consider blended learning, saying, "It's the best of both worlds." Students get to ask professors questions and meet fellow students in a face-to-face environment, while having the advantage of completing work online with flexibility, she says. Wegmann also says in blended environments, teachers can accommodate a variety of learning styles, which can be beneficial to every learner.
5. Does the program have a good academic support system?
Students should look for institutions with excellent academic support systems, Flynn says. Having academic advisors and faculty available is important in traditional, online and blended programs. "Institutions should provide writing and math centers, and provide a learning community," she says. "You should feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself as you're pursuing your degree."