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 Jennifer MacDonnell

BY: Jennifer MacDonnell

It is rumored that the LA Lakers basketball team performs visual exercises before practice.  All the players, dressed in full uniform, are situated in chairs on the side lines and they are told to envision executing the perfect free throw, block, or assist.  This goes on for a good hour, and even then, the players are not allowed to practice basketball.  Instead, the players are packed into a room, in front of a television, and are forced to watch past games — some victories — some defeats.  Only then, are the players allowed to practice basketball to prepare for what they seek — a winning game.

That being said, many paralegals and employers question if online education transfers successfully to the ultimate goal – the job.  Even when you hear of someone taking online courses, you can’t help but think of fuzzy slippers, relaxing study time, and no deadlines.  Most individuals, including potential employers, would assume that online learning is a sham.  Can this type of environment foster the same education found in a controlled campus classroom setting?  I believe it can.  For those in doubt, you should consider the following:   

Classroom Location does not Equate to Quality.  I will be the first to say that I have taken some terrible campus classes.  Professors were endless drones, the students were comatose, and the syllabus was non-existent.  The quality of a class, whether online or in a classroom, depends on the teacher and the attentiveness of the students.  Although, the most distinguishable difference in online learning is the fact that students are engaged in an interactive setting, rather than a traditional lecture.  This allows the teacher to not only lecture, but simultaneously create customized learning and provide for instant individual feedback. 

Online Learning is not Mindless.  If you have taken Civil Procedure, then you can safely say that it was not an easy class, unless of course, you are a veteran in the profession.  So, what makes anyone think that the online class would be easier?  The work would be the same, just delivered differently.  In a campus classroom setting, the student could probably get away with reading the featured chapter and taking notes while the teacher is lecturing.  Online students must be prepared before class as a result of the manner of online education delivery.  Also, in an online classroom not only are tests timed, but individual test questions are timed.  The online student must know the material completely before the exam, which leaves no room for senseless consideration or open-book cheating.  

Online Students do not lack Social Skills.  Okay, define social.  With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media forums, I believe online students have no problems relating and interacting with people.  In fact, they may have the advantage.  Most classroom professors do not offer open discussion time between students.  Instead, the discussion is a one way conversation – led by the professor.  Online classes offer student discussion areas to promote study groups and socialization — with the professor giving feedback as necessary.  Also, shy students are more enthusiastic to enter online classroom discussions because they had the opportunity to get acquainted in an open environment.

Online Learning Does Not Teach Procrastination.  A professor of mine would lock the classroom door at the beginning of class to prevent latecomers from interrupting her lecture.  Likewise, if you needed to use the restroom in the middle of class, you had better bring your books with you because you would not be reentering the classroom.  Lesson learned.  

Some have the misconception that online courses offer an escape from a controlled classroom environment.  This is definitely not the case.  While most campus classes meet once or twice a week, online classrooms require the student to log in at certain times within a week to engage in discussions and lectures or present projects by specific deadlines throughout the semester.  This allows professors to prevent procrastination and students who attempt to rush through the course.  Many classroom professors routinely remind their students of deadlines and exams, whereas online students must be self-disciplined and manage their time to meet online discussions and deadlines.  

Online Learning is Not a Quick Education.  So who can simultaneously troll the internet, check email, Tweet….and listen to a classroom professor lecture?  Answer honestly… If you picture online students doing just that, you will be sadly disappointed.  Yes, online learning can save time – but only the time it takes to travel to the nearest campus.  Since the expectation for active involvement is higher in online classes, students tend to devote more time to preparation and studying. 

Employers Do Not Consider Online Learning a Disposable Education.  I’ve got a question for you.  How do most attorneys complete their Continuing Legal Education requirements?  Yes, online.  Many corporations have their employees complete orientation training and human resource education online.  Attorneys and corporations realize it takes a committed and dedicated student/employee to complete valuable online learning in order to retain the material.  Because of this, employers recognize that online students possess maturity, self-motivation, and time management skills to get the job done.    

Online learning is developing a new student prototype and potential employee.  The delivery of online education is not only fostering a marketable education, but creating individuals that will define maturity, discipline, and goal orientation.  Make no mistake — employers will eventually take notice of these traits and conclude that online learning is anything but a sham.  Until then, online students must develop tactics on how to market their education to employers who may still doubt the quality of online learning. 

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Have you taken any distance education/online courses?  Please share your personal experience(s) with us!  Do you agree with Jenn’s assessment regarding distance education?  Why or why not?  Let us know if you’re a distance education supporter or a skeptic!  Please share your thoughts with us.

Please note this article is the first of a two-part series regarding classroom vs. distance education.  Be sure to watch for Part II of this series, which will address the inherent disadvantages of distance education.  We know there are two sides to every story!  We plan to share both perspectives, so you can decide what’s right for you and draw your own conclusions.