Should Online programs be cheaper than their On-Campus equivalent?
The case for Online study versus Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) and distance learning as a teacher in itself.
The short answer to this question is no. And I will explain why illustrating my point from three very different perspectives. As a student who has studied tertiary programs both online and on-campus I feel I have something valuable to contribute to this conversation. As a professional working in the Education sector, I see the preparation by faculty and staff, and the infrastructure required to provide a seamless experience online. And finally, from an institutional standpoint, I believe that higher education institutions which can provide a flexible and holistic approach to learning will enable students to get the most out of their degrees and adapt their study lifestyle to get the best results, ie. everyone is different and the world itself is changing more rapidly than ever, schools must be flexible or fail, but this approach also applies to the students.
Not all online programs are created equal
Amidst the worldwide chaos of countries closing their borders, businesses shuttered their bricks and mortar stores in March 2020, and like many other business schools around the globe, Geneva Business School moved online very quickly and managed the transition within 48 hours of lockdowns being imposed. Our professors and staff worked tirelessly so that students could continue learning without interruption to their schedules. Students managed the transition well, but questions surrounding online teaching versus on-campus learning began circulating once this ‘new normal’ became our daily routine.
The questions seem to be along the lines of, “I’m not getting the full campus experience I paid for, so why am I not getting any savings?” This is a fair point if you look at the pre-COVID-19 world where institutions who had pre-packaged, neat online education programs ready for enrollments stacked on the shelf like freshly baked loaves of bread. The University or School had all the ingredients already and simply put them together for anyone to consume at a light, digestible price.
Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT), however, is the result of many hours of problem-solving, training, internal and external communications, and website development to assist and enable the scheduled classes to continue as normal, and any changes are implemented as swiftly as possible.
Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) online is a sunk cost your institution wears for you
Your school created a seamless pathway where your learning continues as before. You still interact with your teachers and colleagues at the same scheduled times. Your teachers are learning new skills and participating in training events so that they can provide you with the best possible learning experience online.
If you are living in timezones that make it impossible for you to join live classes, you are getting additional support from faculty and staff to make sure you get the best possible support. The staff teams on each campus have switched gear to offer continuous support, personal contact, online activities, seminars, and fun things to do online. All of these people are experiencing the pandemic’s effects too, but they are working hard with the common goal to keep you going, to keep your remote learning going, and to keep the community safe and healthy.
Meanwhile, the campuses remain open, and fixed overhead costs remain the same, albeit with new costs incurred from emergency measures such as new software, training staff, resources for COVID-19 prevention, and future-proofing the campus facilities to allow for hybrid teaching to continue for the meantime and beyond.
Learning Online is hardly second best to an On-Campus experience
I completed a Bachelor Degree wholly online to facilitate having a full-time job, paying a mortgage, and be able to travel during school holiday periods, so I can attest from the first-hand experience of completing a triple major Commerce Degree fully online, studied part-time over six years. I sat exams in San Francisco, Johannesburg, and Melbourne. I submitted assignments weeks early to attend weddings and studied for exams whilst writing MC speeches for said weddings. I packed my study in and around my life and I thrived as a result.
Studying online was indeed more valuable than an on-campus program from my perspective and I paid the same price as my in-person counterparts. I received the same degree, I wore the same gown at graduation. I also achieved higher grades than my on-campus colleagues.
That said, face-to-face classes are the mainstay of tertiary education for a reason. Of course the benefits of studying in class relate to better motivation, making friends with your teachers and fellow students and the kinesthetic element of some coursework (coding for example) require a traditional classroom environment for students to fully benefit. This argument is not to discredit the very real benefits of on-campus programs.
While some may argue that online programs remove some of the other tangible benefits of face-to-face classes; networking, social life, personal support, and stress relief during exams, I would like to point out that they can also develop your soft skills which prepare you for the world beyond your studies.
I could seek advice from tutors and professors online via Skype or in group tutorials. I managed to make friends with classmates despite the distance and out-of-kilter timezones. I also formed study groups with people I met online and we helped support each other through the tricky times or difficult tasks. I felt that the distractions of life on campus could be avoided and the good study habits I formed at home also set me up for success in my Honors year on-campus. I reaped the benefits of both.
As a student online I was forced to manage my own time, work on group projects remotely with team members spread across the world (I built a website from Johannesburg with a girl in China and we had never met on-campus), and manage deadlines and lectures from a different time zone to my school. These habits became second nature to me, preparing me well for the business environments I later worked in. The hyper-organized style I had developed helped me to be productive in any environment and manage simultaneous tasks and staggered deadlines with ease. The agility and adaptability this environment taught me was invaluable in working on projects with multiple businesses as a freelancer, and in different sized companies as an employee.
A Post COVID-19 world demands that we all adapt to change, and fast
While the argument for online programs being cheaper than their in-person peers may have held some clout before 2020, we are living in a different reality now and we need to embrace it. Studying online has the potential to unlock all manner of skills and knowledge to more people than ever before. People in all corners of the globe have access to vast universes of knowledge via the internet, the possibilities are endless. What hasn’t changed is a student’s ability to seize opportunities, to work hard, and to pursue high-quality outcomes in all that they do. The sooner you see and seek the benefits that an online program can add to your life, the better off you will be in the ‘new-normal’.