Q&A: How Online Learning Is Different

Answer: It definitely does, in one key way: the relationship of the individual to the group. On the student side, you're more physically isolated in an online classroom than you would be in the traditional classroom. You don't walk to class with other students, file into the classroom, sit next to a friend -- or sit in back so you can sleep. Sometimes this is bad. It's hard to get a group laughing together, or making breakthroughs together, when they are on different continents and signing into class from different time zones. On the other hand, you're more conceptually united. People have more time to review your work, and more chances, as you post discussion responses to a shared forum that they visit time and again.

This shift happens on the instructional side, in ways that might be invisible to students. In the traditional college classroom, the teacher designs a syllabus alone. There might be a syllabus review process, especially for new teachers, but often not. Aside from registering for classes and buying books, as a student you primarily deal with your teachers, with the possible exception of when you check in with your advisor. Online, professors operate more as part of a team. Many schools try to standardize their online courses, to make it easier on the students, and many use instructional designers in that process. Some professionals help with media, IT personnel help with software and classroom access, and so on. It is easier for administrators to review classes, and for faculty to share material. At some schools, the library and librarians play a much more active role online. Taken together, the online educational experience is more collaborative and more of a group endeavor than it is in traditional education.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.