Contemporary societies have been transformed by the sweeping phenomenon of technological advancement and globalization among a host of others. The progress that has been registered especially in information technology has tremendously changed the way things are getting done nowadays. From a business perspective, the buzzword is e-commerce where businesses enhance their stratagem by manipulating the cyber landscape for various business thrusts enlisting marketing, networking, communication drives, etc. From a social world, Facebook is the place to be on the web in a plethora of social networking sites powered by the delights and merits of interactive web 2.0 programming languages which have transformed the web from a mere collection of static web pages to interactive interfaces soliciting user contribution. From an education perspective, the educational thrust has been tremendously impacted upon by the progress in Information technology. The developments in IT have seen the growth of what has been termed e-learning (Electronic Learning). The concept of online learning or e-learning entails the employ of the web and internet interfaces by various traditional and some exclusively online education entities to provide and conduct courses online. This has come with its merits and demerits. The import and essence of this paper are to explore the similarities and differences that characterize degrees offered in traditional brick and mortar models by traditional institutions and those offered by online degree providers.
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The online degree facility of the City University of New York has been hailed for bringing about the aspect of flexibility for the students. The flexible nature of the online degree has opened up learning opportunities for working professionals who would otherwise not be able to handle work and attending classrooms or lecture rooms simultaneously. Online degrees come with a formidable aspect of flexibility and learning opportunities a galore for anyone willing to upgrade themselves academically. Martin Ian (2001)notes that although many have attempted to criticize the quality of the online degree in defense of the traditional degrees, online degrees are offered through a multifaceted and multi-dimensional cyber thrust which entails learning and interactive tools like wikis, and blogs which are a user or student content web application used in various e-learning web interfaces. These; together with many other allow all the students to be equal contributors of knowledge which is something that traditional learning models can not provide for instance; in a lecture room setting. Although some students will make contributions in class, not everyone does but through the wikis and blogs, students are required to make contributions and submit interactive threads or are prompted to give their views and perspectives on online academic forums, discussions boards, and other interactive interfaces. Martin Ian (2001) notes that the offering of the online degree together with the various interactive web tools used to support the learning process is in tandem with andragogical learning thrusts which have far outplayed pedagogical approaches of education in the critical aspects of student involvement and motivation. He underscores that in typical andragogical learning thrusts the learners are viewed and regards as equal contributors of knowledge whereas in traditional pedagogical education thrusts students are large regards as mere recipients of knowledge. The former thus brings with it student motivational merits as learners feel that they are a significant part of the learning process whilst the latter would culminate in low morale for students and hence the ineffectiveness or failure of a learning process owing low learner morale. This has been the hailed vantage point of online degrees which are offered in procedures and processes that empower students to function in the learning process equally and stimulate their learning endeavors.
Online degrees place students in real information technology functionalities. This is achieved through the requirement for the students to conduct all course correspondence through online facilities over the internet. Students in online degrees also have to make the most of the technology to interact with other students, conduct researches, consult online libraries and use web tools like wikis and blogs as well as other utility applications such as excel or SSPS applications, etc to complete their academic tasks. Powers Wendy, (2006) notes that this is the most practical way of empowering students with knowledge and skills beyond the scope of their core degree curriculum. He notes the students who complete the online degree are better prepared for the workplace context as they would have mastered critical aspects of information technology, skills which will be required in any workplace environment given the growing use of IT in modern society. What is notable in the foregoing is therefore the implication that students completing a traditional degree in conventional brick and mortar settings are less prepared for the real-time career environs as they may still have to go through the complex process of mastering various IT systems requisite for routine career tasks.
Online Degrees are thus commended for being highly student-centered than educator-centered. In an online degree, program students take the front seat and interact, develop course material and even teach one another. Martin Ian, (2001) gives an example where students in an online sociology degree Programme had to discuss the subject of deviant behavior. The overwhelming outcome of the students’ cyber discussion was that beyond a listing of various anti-social behaviors named as universally deviant students were able to pinpoint another fact that some behaviors regarded as deviant in one society are non-deviant in others. The cited scholar states that students enlightened each other on how the matter would vary from one society to another. This was practical recognition of the critical theme of cultural relativism which is a major issue in sociological and culture-related studies. Any instructor would have an easier task than in introducing a lecture on cultural relativism and universalisms. In light of the foregoing, the merits of online degrees can not be gainsaid.
Witting P.A, (2001) further brings another point on the aspect of the online degrees students’ preparedness for the real-time career settings tasks and challenges. What is highlighted here are the merits of writing intensity that comes with online degrees. He notes that how online degrees are offered has come in a way to enhance the language skills of students through a process that entails more writing than in traditional degree course programs. The scholar notes that on average the online courses are much more writing-centered and intensive than the traditional learning programs. In traditional learning programs, most assignments have to submit in a written form yet in online programs students are given many writing assignments and with the emphasized requirements to submit well written and proofread work, students are not only encouraged to master typing and work presentation skills but also have their language skills enhanced through the formidable school of practice. What must be noted is that contrary to the ignorant opinion that there is not much writing intensity in online degrees as in traditional learning, some discussion forums, prompt projects, group tasks, tests and quizzes, and many more online learning activities have to be in written form as well. The online learning channel thus has more written work activities than traditional learning forms and the merits of this are incontrovertible.
Although some arguments for the merits of online education have been advanced the learning model is not without its limitations. In a survey conducted by researchers cited by Marcus Henning (2007) to establish the opinion of the employers on online degrees, more than 60 percent of the employers indicated that they perceive online degrees to be of lower quality than traditional degrees. Arguable as it may be, this has direct implications for the hiring decisions of the employers and it implies that traditional degree students will be first preference to employers than online degree students. One of the emerging concerns on the thrust of online degrees is the question as to whether online instructors will be able to own up to the challenges of meeting the future demands of online learners which are projected to increase. The other set back fore-learning is that the adoption and enhancement of online learning programs come with budgetary constraints for the development and sustenance of pedagogical competence of online instructors. Nonetheless the foregoing can not suffice as the sole basis for an argument against the merits of online degrees versus traditional degrees. With more research being conducted in the areas of improving online learning it can be expected that the future of e-learning will see more effective and efficient e-learning thrusts.
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