Can Online Learning Reproduce the Full College Experience?

In a paper for The Heritage Foundation, Karen McKeown compares online education with traditional college education. She looks at different reasons why students choose higher education and which institution, noting that whilst a large percentage of college graduates think it was a worthwhile investment, a large percentage of the public think it is unaffordable.

She looks at the educational, social and extracurricular components of online education, noting that there is an increase in studies which are providing evidence of effectiveness:

There will always be students who are pursuing a higher degree solely or primarily to achieve specific career goals and who have comparatively little interest in achieving a full college experience. Many of these students are older or already working and have been early adopters of online education, which has offered them the flexibility they need in achieving their ultimate goals.

At the other end of the spectrum will always be students who, for various reasons, want only the traditional on-campus college experience. For some of these students, the campus appeal may consist in the opportunities to interact in person with professors and classmates. Others may be pursuing majors, such as science or performing arts, that are less easily adapted to the online environment. Still others may be seeking aspects of the traditional social or extracurricular experience that they do not believe can ever be replicated or replaced by online education.

Between these two ends of the spectrum are students who are increasingly willing to consider online education as it gains wider visibility, acceptance, and sophistication and as traditional institutions of higher learning become less accessible financially.[49] For these students, a key factor in their choice will be the ability of online programs to provide a college experience that not only matches the academic content of a traditional college, but also includes an adequate level of the social and extracurricular components that the students desire.

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