Offline versus Online Education
Since the advent of modern universities in the 11th century, teaching and learning have almost exclusively been conducted offline for one obvious reason: The internet, whose emergence is responsible for the terms “online” and “offline,” is a recent phenomenon. In 1980, only a handful of pioneers used a rudimentary version of the internet. Today it is estimated that 63% of the world population has access to the internet. The rapid adoption of the internet in the last three decades has revolutionized almost all sectors of human society, with education being chief among them.
Offline education is normally conducted at a physical school. This means that students have to leave their homes and go to another brick-and-mortar building to meet their teachers. According to a recent estimate, India has 5,288 physical universities; the United States has 3,216; and Indonesia has 2,595. If we factor in primary and secondary schools, the number of physical schools is much higher per country. Besides classroom space, physical schools usually have a range of other facilities such as gymnasiums, offices, laboratories, libraries, dormitories, theaters, and stadiums.
The biggest advantage of offline education is the close interaction it fosters between students, teachers, and other non-academic staff. Attending a physical school facilitates interacting face-to-face with teachers, mingling with fellow students, and taking advantage of on-campus facilities. For students pursuing fields such as vocational skills and experimental sciences, offline education provides the space and necessary tools needed to specialize.
Another major advantage of offline education is that, unlike online education, it is not dependent on electric power and gadgets that connect to the internet. With just one instructor, a chalkboard, and a seating space for students, it is possible to run offline classes.
Because of its communal nature, offline education is less prone to distractions. Students are less likely to be distracted by chores, family obligations, or social media. In some offline learning environments, using a mobile phone while in class is prohibited to enhance student focus. In an online learning environment, instructors lack the ability to regulate the student’s environment, meaning that students who are unable to design a distraction-free study space for themselves may have a harder time focusing.
Unlike offline education that takes place in a physical classroom, online education takes place via the internet. Instead of traveling to a physical location where classes are held, students only need a computer, a source of electrical power, and an internet connection. Instructors need the same tools to engage with their students.
According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, in the year 2017-2018, 21% of American public schools offered at least one course online, while 13% of private schools offered at least one online course. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced a radical shift in student learning, however: 77% of public schools moved their courses online, while 73% of private schools did the same. Although online learning greatly accelerated during the pandemic, the format has been around since at least the late 1990s. For instance, New York University established its online subsidiary in 1998, while the fully online Western Governors University was founded in 1997. Since those early days, online education has continued to increase in popularity. According to one estimate by the National Center for Education Statistics, 75% of all undergraduate students in the United States were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2020. Data by Coursera indicates that there was a gradual increase in the number of people who register to learn on their website as well. In 2016, there were only 21 million registered learners; by 2021, that number had jumped to 92 million.
One reason why online education has become so popular is its affordability. In offline education, students have to bear the costs associated with transportation, room and board, extracurricular activities, and school administration. As a result, the final cost of offline education can be hefty. Some students in the United States spend up to $100,000 dollars per year on their university education. As a result of these high tuition costs, millions of graduates find themselves weighed down by student debt for decades.
Online education is typically much cheaper in contrast, since the only services online students have to pay for are the classes that they attend. Students enrolled in Western Governors University’s 1-year MBA program will spend $9,460 on tuition for the 2022-2023 school year. In comparison, students enrolled in the Wharton MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania can expect a first-year budget of $118,568, which includes $22,887 for room and board and $84,874 in tuition and fees—a grand total that is over ten times more than what WGU charges.
Apart from being more affordable, online education allows more flexibility to students. People who have family and professional obligations find it more manageable to study online rather than in traditional offline settings. In most online education scenarios, students also have the opportunity to revisit the materials covered in class in the form of recorded audio and video. Missing a class in an offline setting can mean missing out on key learning milestones.
The success of online education is particularly challenging for prospective students in developing countries, who do not have reliable access to power, internet, or computers. Additionally, online education is not yet suited to fields that require hands-on training, such as medicine.
According to a recent Holon IQ report, the world will have 2 billion more learners by the year 2050. More innovation will be key to educating prospective learners cheaply and at scale. While offline education has undeniable merits, people will continue to seek more flexible and affordable learning options. As technology becomes more robust and traditional educational processes become more digitized, we can expect online education to become essential to educating future generations.
Woolf, the first global collegiate university, is on a mission to innovate higher education by enabling qualified institutions from anywhere in the world to offer affordable, ECTS-accredited courses online. Our proprietary software makes it easy for higher education institutions to spend less time and resources on regulation, compliance, and course creation. The seamless accreditation path Woolf offers its members ultimately enables students from every part of the world to access high-quality and transferable education that gives them an edge in a fast-changing world.
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