University or Online Education, Which is the Best?

The world is changing, more and more educational sources are coming up online, but will that make universities obsolete in the future? What are the pros and cons of taking a university Education as compared to Online Education? Should you quit your high tuition university or is the degree from universities still valuable? Where is the field of Education heading towards? This article attempts to answer all these questions so that you can gain a good understanding of both these modes of education. 

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each by looking at the following criteria

  • Degree or Diploma
  • Quality of Education
  • The Learning Experience
  • Facilities and Infrastructure and 
  • Cost

To make things more interesting, I have decided to rate and give scores to online and university education depending on how good they are in each of the above categories.

So the initial score is

Online education: 0 points

University education: 0 points

The Degree or Diploma

This is the number 1 reason to choose a university.  On your resume, your degree will speak a lot about you when you are first searching for a job. Employers in several parts of the world are still not used to the idea of online education and depending on the region you are living in, the recruiters may refuse to give your resume a second look if they see that you got an Online certificate instead of a good college degree. 

The certificates of completion as given by the online educational courses like Udemy are of little to no use as they do not have any value in the sense, all you needed to do was complete the course to get the certificate, but your skills were not tested and verified by an institution. All they can show is your interest in your education which can look good on your LinkedIn profile. 

But the online educational scene is catching up in this area as sites like Coursera have partnered with universities to provide us with online degrees where the courses end with some sort of a mini project that you are expected to complete, along with several quizzes to make the degree document more meaningful.

But these online degrees usually cost more (around 500$ to 2000$) compared to simple online courses from Udemy (around 20$), even though the quality of education remains the same. This is because of the fact that it needs the time of the instructors to review your project so that they can properly grade you. Automated grading systems are coming up that checks and grades our submissions giving us points based on the quality of our projects. Hopefully, this will reduce the prizes of online degrees in the future.

Also, there are industry certifications from Microsoft, Linux, CompTIA, Cisco, etc,.which are considered more valuable as compared to a degree from some not so famous university as these industry certifications are more famous in terms of keeping the course objectives up to date and keeping the testing process more rigorous. Even though there are training institutes that offer education for these certifications, they can be prepared 100% online with just 1 visit to one of their testing centers.

Verdict

So to summarise University Degrees are still valuable, and Online Degrees are catching up and industries are starting to understand online education.

University Education: 3 points

Online Education: 2 point

Quality of education

Let’s next look at the quality of education, which determines how much knowledge is actually passed on to the students from the instructors. This is something that varies instructor to instructor and hence very hard to choose a winner. I have experienced plenty of both Online Education and University Education so I will talk from my experience, but your opinion may differ. 

Quality of University Education

This highly depends on your particular university. But generally speaking from my limited experience, world-class universities have world-class instructors and the standard falls fast once you get down a bit in the university ranking. 

If you would like a sample of world-class university lectures, just google MIT OpenCourseWare and that will take you to this website, where you can find videos of so many courses taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There search for a subject you are already familiar with, select a course and spend an hour listening to the very first episode and you will instantly feel the quality of education being taught.

This does not mean that all university will have the same quality of education. This is probably due to the fact as passionate researchers and educators usually join the best university and the not so best universities are usually filled with 50% of educators who came to this field either because they got tired of working in the industry or because they did not get a chance to work at a better university as they did not qualify. Due to this scenario usually, a huge gap can be noticed in the quality of education as you walk through from the best-ranked ones to the lesser ranked ones. 

How are universities ranked? Universities are ranked based on the research being published. When people working in universities publish research papers in big journals of their fields (eg. IEEE for engineering field) the universities get some points in the ranking system as these journals are considered high quality and heavily filtered, so that not everyone can go ahead and publish it. 

When people cite the research papers on their own research, the journal’s value is considered higher as it found some use on some other research. Then the university gets more points for citations also. 

Other factors for university rankings include the lab facilities and related infrastructure.

As you can see only quality research papers make it to quality journals and only quality researchers can make quality research papers that get cited, this implies that the top-ranked universities have better researchers, or in other words, the instructors in top-ranked universities are more knowledgeable!

So the key point to take away is this, The probability of getting a good quality education is high in top-ranked universities, but this probability will quickly decline as you see the quality at lesser ranked universities.

Quality of Online Education

This can also vary a lot depending upon the instructor, yes, but there is a key point to note here, the ratings for courses and reviews that you can find on online education websites like Udemy, or the number of likes and dislikes on a youtube video course are all the grades provided by the students to the instructors. So in a matter of seconds without seeing a single lecture or buying a course, you can guess if a course is going to be good or not. Also on top of this, usually you get a sneak peek at the courses for preview before buying and there is usually a money-back guarantee by the course providers, so that gives some confidence for you to try them. 

Personally, I have personally taken courses after looking at the reviews and sample lectures and I have rarely been disappointed with a purchase as they are usually world-class and miles ahead of university courses I have taken on the very same subjects.

Also, not everyone can get a place to study at a top university, maybe 1% of the overall student population of the world will get a chance to do it. But there is practically no limit to the number of students that can learn an online course.

Verdict

So to summarise, only the Top ranked universities can provide the best quality of education, but it cannot take in all the students of the world and Online education provide a much better quality of education as compared to a lesser ranked university.

Online Education: 4 points 

University Education: 1point

Total points so far

Online education: 6 points

University education: 4 points

The Learning Experience

In terms of the learning experience, we are mainly going to talk about the following

  • Structure of the course
  • The flexibility of the learning schedule
  • Community feeling
  • Support from instructors

Let’s briefly take a look at each one.

Course Structure 

If you are taking a 2 to 4 years university degree, there is a good probability that the structure of the course syllabus is good, gradually starting from the very basics of the field and gradually moving towards the more complex concepts as your course progresses. The universities usually follow international standards regarding the degree/diploma that you chose to learn and hence provide a better structure. 

For example say if you are taking a 3 year bachelor’s course in Electronics, you will probably learn about the basic concepts in electronics along with some basic Math in your 1st year, moving onto more complex concepts like integrated circuits and digital signal processing (the math you learned in 1st year is going to help you here) in 2nd year and 3rd year you will probably be doing some research and some hardware projects to practice and exhibit your skills. 

If you learned all the courses properly, provided you got good quality education and your university is following the international standards of syllabus, then you will be left with as little knowledge gap in your field as possible and as promised your bachelor’s course will leave you with a strong foundation for your career in your chosen field. 

Online education, on the other hand, has a lot of mini degrees and master’s degrees, but bachelor’s degrees are very rare (I have never seen one). You can find most of the courses you are learning in your bachelor’s being taught online as individual courses but they are not structured in any way. This makes it difficult for a beginner to choose courses to learn as they have no clue how to proceed. A syllabus from a good university’s web page can help as guidance here. 

Due to this, the point for course structure goes to University Education

Course Structure Verdict

University Education: 1

Online education: 0

Overall scores:

University education: 5

Online education: 6

The flexibility of Learning Schedule

This can be a double-edged sword due to the following facts.

  1. A flexible schedule can be good if you are having a full-time job and you are trying to improve your skills by learning online from home whenever you get free time
  2. If you are a full-time student, too much flexibility as provided by online education can become a problem, especially if you are a procrastinator, as a strict schedule like something you experience at a university can force you to complete your tasks in a limited amount of time as you are expected to submit your assignments on time and give your exams on dates fixed by the university, thereby using social pressure to your advantage.

Flexibility Verdict

University Education: 1

Online Education: 1

Total points so far

Online education: 7 points

University education: 6 points

Community

I am not even going to write too much about this, the university is going to give you friends, with whom you are going to study with, and going to party with. You are going to have a wonderful social life at a University with like-minded people. No online forum and email discussions are going to replace the social life at universities. 

Community Verdict

University Education: 1

Online Education: 0

Total points so far

Online education: 7 points

University education: 7 points

Looks like online and university education has equal scores thus far.

Support from instructors

As I mentioned, universities can only take in a limited number of students and online courses have no practical limits. But even though more students can get better quality education through online courses, that does not mean that all the students will get better quality support. Even the person to person support from a “not so good” instructor at a university is going to be more useful than no support at all. 

But these days the online courses usually come with a forum, where students can post questions about the course and the instructors or other students can answer it. This way if another student gets the same question, they can just look up the previous answers and get his/her’s confusions cleared.

But if you get a doubt in the middle of an ongoing class, a recorded lecture is not going to answer it but a live instructor in your classroom might!

Verdict for support

University Education: 1

Online Education: 0

Total points so far

Online education: 7 points

University education: 8 points

Facilities and Infrastructure

These refer to the labs, classrooms, libraries and study materials that are considered essential for a given course. 

Points in favor of Universities:

  • Labs
  • Libraries
  • Computers
  • Classrooms and cafeterias

Points in favor of Online courses:

  • Recorded lectures that are repeatable

Verdict for infrastructure

University Education: 4

Online Education: 1

Total points so far

Online education: 8 points

University education: 12 points

Cost

University education, depending on which part you live can be completely free or costs a small amount, or maybe costs a fortune. Online education, on the other hand, can also be free as in Youtube supported by ads, or paid lifetime access courses like in Udemy with a low cost of entry, usually less than 20$ for good quality content or maybe one with a subscription plan like skillshare. 

So I am going to give this one to Online Courses as they are downright more affordable than university courses

Verdict for infrastructure

University Education: 1

Online Education: 4

Final points

Online education: 12 points

University education: 13 points

Overall Verdict

So in our ranking system, university education wins by a small margin, but keep in mind we are still at the beginning of the online education era! 

So will online courses make university education obsolete in the future? I don’t think so, as no virtual environment is going to give us the same experience as studying with a bunch of other students in a classroom environment.

But if you are a full-time student and already in a university, then it’s a good idea to try out some online courses as the quality of education is much better online. 

If you have a full-time job and trying to learn some courses, then again online education is the best choice since it will give you the freedom of flexibility. 

That’s it from my side and I hope you enjoyed reading this article!

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