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Taking online courses? You're missing out on college experience, experts say

January 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Imagine graduating from a four-year traditional university but never once showing up for class.

Online courses are skyrocketing in popularity on college campuses across the country, offering students more flexibility and choice than ever before. However, some experts worry students are missing out on some important college campus experiences that add up to the total education. They're suggestion is a combination of the two.

Annabelle Loudon, a student, attends a traditional university, but she's also taking some of her courses online.

"We'd have a reading assignment and then every week you'd have a quiz or a test." she said, "so you could work on your own time during the week, which was great for me."

Online education is fast becoming the norm across the U.S. with 35 percent of students now taking at least one course online and 65 percent of colleges consider online learning as a critical part of their future.

"In the last three to five years, the number of schools that are offering online degrees has exploded," said Vicky Phillips, founder of geteducated.com.

The institutions who offer them may surprise. Eighty-five percent of all online degrees are offered by traditional, residential schools. This includes state universities, large public brand names and Ivy League schools.

Experts say online classes have distinct advantages including flexibility, more choices of courses and teachers, and of course, affordability.

"There's a crisis right now in being able to afford even a first primary college degree," Phillips said. "Online learning is a tremendous help to consumers in that regard."

So should we expect to say good-bye to the traditional campus experience in the future? Some say that's where we're headed, and that has some educators concerned. They believe virtual learning falls short of a full college experience.

"If you ask most students what they remember about their college experience, most remember interpersonal interactions they've had, they remember the social experiences, they remember the ways in which they've grown as a person. That's much harder to do in an entirely online experience," said Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Kruger said he believes a hybrid experience may be best.

"The faculty member has some portion of the class that will be live, but they also offer many components of the class in an online environment," he said.

Loudon enjoyed some of her online classes, but wouldn't have wanted the entire experience to be virtual.

"I like showing up to class, I like being around other students and having people to talk to about the class," she said. "I think that's nice."

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