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Online or On-Campus: Which Type of College Is Best for You?
June 28th, 2010

It’s back-to-school time, but you’re not sure whether online learning or traditional education is right for you. Can you succeed in the online classroom or are you more of a traditional-type learner? Take this quiz to determine which education format suits you best.

1. After work today, you’re going home to:

a) relax. I might have dinner with a friend, go to a movie, go dancing, or anything else that suits my fancy.

b) spend time with family. I’ll be helping my kids with their homework, catching up with my spouse, and probably dozing off to some late-night TV.

c) make a pit stop. The night is young; I still plan to serve dinner at the soup kitchen, attend a board meeting for the nonprofit I support, and visit sick kids at the children’s hospital.

Before you enroll in any school, online or traditional, you need to consider your family and other  commitments. Free birds (choice A) may choose either education format, but their social needs might be better met in a physical campus setting. For those with family (choice B) or other non-school commitments (choice C), free time is minimal. In that case, online learning may be the answer – you can be with your kids while they’re awake or give back to charities early in the evening and log on to the online classroom when your schedule permits.

2. When it comes to blogging, uploading files to the Internet, and utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter, you feel:

a) psyched. I love chatting with friends and sharing information, and the latest technological innovations facilitate that process.

b) cautious. I hardly know how to get online without assistance. Besides, isn’t it dangerous to put personal information on the Internet?

c) neutral. Technology is useful, but it has its limitations. Though I’m comfortable with e-mail, I’d rather talk face to face.

Before you jump into an online classroom, you need to assess your level of comfortability with technology. If you answered B, adjusting to the online learning platform will be a challenge for your technical abilities as well as your personal preferences. Traditional education may be a better fit. If you answered A, the online classroom won’t intimidate you a bit, nor will it serve as an obstacle to be overcome. If you answered C, you probably have the ability to handle the technical aspects of online education but you may not be ready to make the psychological shift to schooling on your laptop. Before you proceed, ask yourself if you’re truly ready to embrace the online classroom or if you prefer the traditional classroom format.

3. The facts and concepts you still remember from your school days were learned by:

a) reading books. Sometimes I can even visualize where a phrase appeared on the page.

b) studying with friends. Quizzing each other and talking out the answers kept the material at the tip of my tongue.

c) active exploration. Whether performing experiments or creating presentations, I’ve always learned best when the instruction is hands-on.

Learning style is a critical component of suitability for online learning or traditional education. If you answered C, you’re a tactile learner who needs to touch things to make them come alive in your mind. If you answered A, you’re a visual learner who thinks in pictures, takes detailed notes, and studies body language and facial expression. If you answered B, you’re an auditory learner, which means you remember what you hear and what you speak. Those who answered A and B are poised to succeed in the online classroom, while those who answered C would probably fare best in a traditional classroom or a blended learning environment that incorporates a laboratory/internship component.

4. If you had to describe your study habits, you would say they are:

a) Excellent. I keep a calendar for all my assignments and I work on long-term projects well before the due date.

b)  So-so. I try to tackle assignments ahead of time but I often end up pulling all-nighters to get work done.

c) What are study habits?

If you want to experience even a modicum of success in an online classroom, you need to be a time management pro. Just because you don’t have to log on every day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Procrastinators (choice B) will struggle in the online arena, as will those who don’t have the first clue about organization and scheduling (choice C). Those who manage their time well on their own (choice A) have the best chance of keeping pace with online learning – even without the physical presence of professors and classmates.

5. You’re exhausted after a long day at work and now you have studying to do. What motivates you to get started?

a) Rewards. I need the promise of a bowl of ice cream or a favorite TV show to keep me working toward the goal.

b) Myself. I know what I have to do and I do it. It’s important to me, so I just buckle down and get it done.

c) Friends. I can work through anything with the encouragement of a friend. Studying alongside each other is even better.

This question deals with the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, a significant consideration in your higher education decision. Independent workers (choice B) are a natural fit for the online classroom, while those who complete assignments under a reward system (choice A) are more extrinsically motivated and may therefore have a hard time keeping themselves going when working alone. Collaborative workers (choice C) can still succeed in online education; they just need to be proactive in making connections and finding creative ways to work with their peers in real time.

6. How realistic is it for you to commute to a brick-and-mortar campus?

a) Not very realistic. I need to work full time and stay home in the evenings with my kids.

b) Totally unrealistic. I live in a rural town and the nearest college is ridiculously far away.

c) It depends. I can make it to campus, but my business traveling could make it difficult for me to commit to one location for a semester-long course.

Sometimes the choice between online and traditional education is made clear by factors beyond your control. If your mobility (choice C) or lack thereof (choices A and B) makes it nearly impossible for you to get to campus, online education is the obvious choice. Online education allows you to learn from home or anywhere else in the world. Traditional education is only feasible if you can commit to one location for learning outside your home.

7. The best word to describe your current work schedule is:

a) Grueling. It’s rare to get out earlier than 7 or 8 p.m.

b) Flexible. I take advantage of flextime: It doesn’t matter when I do my work, as long as I get it done on time.

c) Standard. I’ve got a typical 9-to-5 job – I can’t leave early but I don’t feel pressure to stay late, either.

When you’re making plans to go back to school, it’s important to assess your work demands. Anyone who works long hours (choice A) will have trouble finding a campus program that fits their schedule. Those with a more flexible schedule (choice B) can probably enroll in a traditional education program with ease. Nine-to-fivers (choice C) can also head to campus for night and weekend classes or perhaps pursue a blended learning program.

8. When you picture what you want out of your education and your career, your vision is:

a) Crystal clear. I know exactly what I want to study and where my education will take me.

b) Cloudy. I think I know which program I’ll pursue but I’m not sure how it relates to my profession.

c) Muddy. I haven’t decided on a major and I don’t know how education will impact my career.

Going back to school is a big decision, not one to be made on a whim. If you don’t have a clear idea about why you’re in school in the first place (choice C), it may be tough to stick with the program when challenges arise. That can be true in traditional education as well as online education. Having some clue where you’re headed (choice B) is helpful, but it may not be enough when you don’t have a professor standing over your shoulder. If you choose to pursue online education, you will be much more motivated to stay on task when your goals are clearly defined (choice A).

How did you do? Whether you’re cut out for online education or a traditional classroom, it’s time to get started and make the most of your higher education endeavor.