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Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar: Which Type of Education is Better For You?

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online student with laptop

“I am a Phoenix!”

How many of you roll your eyes every time you hear someone declare that with the utmost pride during one of those University of Phoenix commercials? Surely they must be paid tons of cash to say that, because no self-respecting college graduate would ever admit to attending an online college, right?

Wrong.

If you have that kind of mindset, maybe it’s time for you to join the 21st century. Online education is not a sham, but a new concept that has been proven to better accommodate students’ schedules, improve students’ performance and give painfully shy students a fair chance to earn a degree. Online education is the new frontier of learning, and more and more reputable colleges and universities are investing in online programs every year.

You’re probably thinking, “So, that means brick-and-mortar classrooms are becoming a relic of the past, right?”

No, not necessarily.

Traditional education is still just as important as it was centuries ago. Attending brick-and-mortar classes allows students to participate in hands-on learning, interact with their professors and classmates and stay focused without being distracted by funny cat pictures or anything else the wondrous Internet has to offer.

You just need to figure out which type of education best matches your needs. The following four questions will help you decide whether you should take online classes from the comfort of your home or travel to a nearby college to earn your degree:

1. What kind of degree do you want?

The type of degree you’re pursuing plays a big part in whether you should enroll in online courses or take traditional classes. If you need a lot of hands-on training and human interaction to earn a degree and succeed in your field of work, learning in a brick-and-mortar classroom among your classmates is the way to go. If your degree can be earned solely by learning information and taking tests without the need to interact with others, you can take online courses and still excel at your job after graduating.

Research your degree, figure out which learning approach works best in that particular field of study and then determine which type of education best accommodates it.

A bonus question to ask yourself: “Would I be laughed out of a job interview in this particular field if I told them I graduated from an online college?”

2. What’s your learning style?

If you learn best by:

Seeing: Reading, looking at graphics and watching demonstrations can all be done online. Some classroom teachers don’t offer any visual aids, so online education may be the best choice for you.

Touching: An online course would easily put you to sleep. You need to be in an actual classroom where you can have a hands-on experience.

Listening: This can be done either online or in the classroom. However, there’s a downside to each scenario. Some online courses don’t offer lecture videos, and some classrooms may be too loud for you to be able to listen and concentrate.

3. Are you easily distracted?

If you’re sitting behind a computer screen, Miss Trunchbull can’t slap your hand with a ruler and tell you to sit straight and pay attention. It’s every student’s dream to be out of reach from a teacher’s iron fist, isn’t it?

Perhaps, but not everyone would fare well in such a scenario.

If you’re an easily distracted person with a tendency to procrastinate, you probably won’t pay much attention during an online class. You’ll be likely to give in to your temptations and check Facebook, read up on the latest celebrity gossip or even turn on your Wii and play Zelda during an online class session.

A 2012 study revealed that technology is the biggest culprit when it comes to distraction from school work. The average student can only focus and stay on task for three minutes before being interrupted by some form of media. Holy technology overexposure, Batman!

Now, you must be thinking it’s next to impossible to graduate with high marks from an online college if you’re using technology to learn…without any supervision whatsoever. But it is possible; you just need to discipline yourself. The question is, do you have the chops for it?

4. What’s your financial situation?

On average, online education is 70-87 percent cheaper than traditional education. If you have no financial aid whatsoever (not even from the Bank of Mom and Dad), an online education would be much easier on your wallet. If you’ve been awarded a hefty scholarship or told not to worry about college costs, you can consider attending a brick-and-mortar college if it’s the better option for your field of study.

Which type of education would give you the most bang for your buck?

Kate Simmons is a part-time blogger and slow food enthusiast currently pursuing studies at Colorado Technical University.

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