According to Babson Survey Research Group’s findings, the total number of students enrolled exclusively in online programs is 2.8 million and those enrolled in at least one class is 5.8 million, or 28 percent of all college students.  Though the overall trend is still growing, the percentage of academic leaders who believe that online learning is critical to long-term success declined from 71 to 63 percent.  Using these data points, we can conclude there are still significant advantages to online learning and but there are disadvantages as well.

The most significant factors driving the explosion of online learning from a student perspective are affordability, convenience, and flexibility.  The price of on-campus learning is high and continues to grow; this increases student debt and the long-term financial health of many students.  

Cost, however, is not always so clear in favor of the online format (see this article by U.S. News and World Report). For those working, however, an on-campus degree can disrupt their schedule and affects job availability. Hence so many would rather keep working and earning money while doing an online degree they can often take at their own pace.  

The online format may be asynchronous, which means you can take classes whenever you want at whatever pace you want.  This is the most flexible, though some schools have limits on how long a student can be in the program.  Typically asynchronous learning is through the web, email, or message boards to the student who then completes and submits the work.  

Synchronous learning is different in that it is through chat and video-conferencing technology.  This kind of online learning is with others, not alone, and is a virtual classroom and requires students “virtual” attendance during set events. 

Many programs offer a combination of these two types of learning, and a lot of variety exists from school to school.  Another key difference to note when researching the school of choice is the on-campus requirements.  There are many programs entirely online with no campus visits. However, there are some that require a few days to a week.

As for the EAME curriculum, online and on-campus degrees offer the same courses.

A look at two of our rankings, the 20 Best Online Master’s in Educational Assessment, Measurement, and Evaluation and the 20 Best Master’s in Educational Assessment, Measurement, and Evaluation reveals this. We recommend accredited programs, and not all are, so be aware. Be sure to check, as accreditation ensures the quality and credibility of the program to potential employers.  There are many offers of degrees from “online schools” on the internet, and students must be wary of pursuing a degree through an institution that is not recognized by accrediting bodies.

The on-campus degree has two distinct advantages: the person-to-person classroom and the on-campus mentoring from faculty experts.  This face-to-face contact and the communication inherent within a very relational field does provide a complete and un-measurable advantage.  The relationships formed with professors is crucial to the development of a future educator.  Classroom modeling and teaching styles are elements that simply cannot be communicated via the internet.  The renowned 19th-century English educator Charlotte Mason said, “Education is a discipline, an atmosphere, a life.”  The atmosphere of education, that hidden curriculum, cannot be passed through a computer screen.  The biggest disadvantage to the on-campus degrees is cost and the travel or moving required.  This inflexibility can sometimes be offset with the right housing arrangement, but living on campus can be quite expensive.  

There are pros and cons of each decision; it is important that future students examine all of the options to choose what is best for their situation and goals.  In the end, the best degree is the one that works for you.