To What Extent Can Online Learning Replace Traditional Classroom-Based Learning?

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Education has undergone significant changes because of the development of information and communication technology over the 21st century (Lin & Jou, 2012:2). As a convenient and inexpensive way to gain knowledge while pursuing higher education, online learning, a form of training or teaching that takes place over the Internet, has been considered as an alternative to traditional classroom learning (Zhang et al, 2004). This essay will argue that even though online learning has benefit such as flexibility which could outweigh traditional learning, traditional classroom learning might still not be entirely replaced. This essay will discuss positive and negative aspects of online and traditional learning in terms of four criteria: flexibility and time management, freedom of speech and deeper learning, interaction and students’ perspectives. In conclusion, the author suggests a blended learning with both advantages of online learning and traditional learning are combined (Paechter & Maier, 2010:296).

The “anytime, anywhere” aspect of online learning is the most significant advantage over traditional classroom (Arbaugh, 2004:171, cited by Brandon & Hollingshead, 1999; Dede, 1991; Harasim, 1990). Learners can process material at any time from any place (Paechter & Maier, 2010:296, citied by Artino & Stephens, 2009; Narciss et al, 2007). For students who cannot afford to take away from their time-dependent jobs, online programs provide flexibility in time and pace of study so that they are able to work meanwhile maintaining the universities’ academic commitment (Sharpe & Benfield, 2005; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013). Moreover, by accessing a learning management system such as Moodle, Blackboard, course website, students can achieve clarity about their course information like assignments, test dates to the full extent (Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013:181). On the other hand, online learning could be time-consuming since additional time and efforts needed to use online technologies and software. Based on the date of 45 students’ online experiences at Nottingham Trent University, Cramphorn (2004) explored time is the most common concern for online course students. Physical writing time, time lag, time needed to reflect on posts are mentioned by most of the participants. Furthermore, lacking clarity about course expectations, underestimating time needed to complete tasks make online course challenging (Kruger-Ross & Waters, 2013:177, cited by Beaudoin et al, 2009; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Palloff & Pratt, 2001). It seems that lots of students are not able to manage their time properly and still need guidance from a teacher (Zhang et al, 2004). Secondly, it is widely believed that online learning enables a certain freedom of speech and offer a deeper learning approach by requesting students to think critically and encouraging a wide range of ideas, a better understanding of the materials. Students feel free to speak out or criticize without direct contact with others through online learning, whereas some were reporting concerns about the written, permanent record and criticizing others’ work openly (Sharpe & Benfield, 2005; cited by Macdonald, 2003). A typical example is that a postgraduate student withdrew from an online course because he felt his English level was being exposed as too weak. Moreover, online learning was viewed as more collaborative than classroom learning, due to the lower profile role played by tutors (Sweeney et al, 2004:319). It moved the focus away from the tutor to the participants so that students can play an active role in their own learning. Undeniably, online learning may be inspiring; nevertheless, not all students are self-determined to manage it, and they may not be able to comprehend information without further explanation from a teacher (Zhang et al, 2004, cited by Meyer, 2003). Unlike classroom learning which direct assistance...
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