Online learning programs and traditional classroom learning programs each offer unique advantages, which can be used as marketing tools for prospective students. Traditional classroom education relies heavily on selling the feeling of community. Students attend classes on campus, and spend time with extracurricular activities and events, and become a part of the school identity. Virtual learning programs, on the other hand, tend to aim their advertising more toward the working individual, who perhaps has less time to commute to campus and sit in class for hours. For individuals looking to expand their skills with flexible hours and commitment, online programs are a great solution. The downside of learning online is that a reliable internet connection is required, which, although not a dramatically high number, 13% of Americans don’t use the internet. Globally, only 40% of the world’s population is online. Online learning, then, is not an option for everyone, of course. Additionally, some online programs might not be covered by financial aid. In that case, traditional classroom education is the only option. Long commutes, minimum credit-per-semester requirements, student loan costs, and time spent in classrooms can deter those already working or taking care of families from seeking higher education or acquiring new job skills. Likewise, the expense of online programs that might not be covered by financial aid can be a deterrent for potential students. These differences between classroom learning and online learning affect the curriculum and program options as well — virtual learning tends to lean more towards the business or technological end of things, whereas classroom learning tends to emphasize fields which require analysis and discussion.
In the future, the competitive advantages of both types of learning will rely on their inherent strengths and differences. I believe that classroom learning will continue to thrive, much like how books in print were not replaced by e-books. The physical environment of classroom learning, of university and college campuses is irreplaceable, as are the one-on-one interactions face-to-face with other students, peers, professors, and classroom discussions. That being said, I also think that online learning options will continue to increase, especially if there are greater diversity in offerings. In order to be accepted as a legitimate form of learning across the board, the reputation of online learning programs will likely need to be established through reliability, job placement, success rates. Programs that emphasize portfolio building and professional critiques, such as the IDM program with MCAD, offer potential students more substantial outcomes, as the work produced throughout the program demonstrates actual results of the program. Virtual learning programs that emphasize practical skill development are more likely to be successful than more abstract analytical programs which require critical thinking, debate, discussion, and thesis formulation. Classroom learning programs stress the importance of becoming a part of a larger university or college community, and this affiliation is what continues to perpetuate the reputation of the educational institution, which in turn increases the likelihood of its success at obtaining more students. Virtual programs have a harder time establishing a community, as online learning can feel less interactive, and there is less obligation to be associated with the institution itself, unless the virtual program is part of a classroom learning institution as well.