The Battle for Your Brain: Classroom Instruction vs. Online Learning

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September has always reminded me of the start of school. And like the young students who return to school to continue their education at this time of year, I often turn to adult education classes to learn something new or refine my skill set. For example, last week I participated in an hour-long webcast about interviewing skills, a topic that never gets old in my field of work.

For many professionals, this is a time to ramp up their education by attending conferences, updating their skills or completing a certification program. Now as September quickly comes to a close, it seems fitting to explore educational opportunities to keep our skills fresh for the rapidly changing business world.

Education comes is different shapes, sizes and formats, and they don’t always have to be expensive. While online learning may be more convenient for many professionals, a study by Pew Research Center in March 2016 finds that a majority of adults still prefer learning in a physical setting over online-based programs. Respondents cited the desire to ask questions of a real live person and the tendency to get lost in all the information that’s offered on the Internet. “Learning is still very much a place-based thing,” says Pew researcher John Horrigan in the study. “The Internet plays a role, but it’s secondary in most respects.”

In today’s post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of online learning and classroom instruction. Depending on your educational goals and lifestyle, you may have a preference for one format over the other.

* Classroom instruction provides real-time interactions with instructors and classmates. You can put faces to the names of your fellow classmates. Online you may never meet your classmates.

* Students receive hands-on experience and learn by doing under an instructor’s guidance. Anything from auto repair, home improvement or gardening may be better suited for on-site, in-person learning rather than online.

* In a physical setting, students can obtain immediate feedback from instructors about their class work.  Attendees also have a chance to ask questions and get responses in real time. With online learning, there may be a time lag between the time you submit work for review and your instructor’s critique.

* There may be more and better opportunities to network with your peers in a classroom environment and maintain those relationships when the course is done.

On the other hand, online learning via the Internet may be more convenient for professionals who travel a lot or who don’t have time to take a classroom course.

* Online learning allows you to learn at your own pace on your own time or from any place that provides an Internet connection.

* Information is shared in smaller chunks so it’s easy to digest in short, compact time periods. For example, most podcasts, webinars or online class sessions may only be one hour and may only cover one specific topic, such as interviewing skills or using Linked In for a job search.

* Students may work in isolation rather than in a group setting, even though there may be other participants. There’s less opportunity for interaction with other students. Even online discussions lack immediacy and personalization.

* Online learning may require greater self-motivation to keep up with the course work. For example, when I participated in an online writing course, I found it difficult to stay motivated because of the limited interaction with the instructor and classmates. I quickly lost interest. I realized I needed the camaraderie, interaction and feedback from fellow writers.

Whether you take classes online or in a physical classroom at the library, place of worship or local school, education is important to not only keep yourself relevant in business but for also introducing fresh new ideas that you can use at work or in life. Knowing what your educational goals are and what your learning style and preferences are can help you determine which format of learning is best suited for your needs.

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