According to an article by Justin Pope of the Associated Press, some students prefer classes on-line. While this isn't necessarily a novel observation in today's increasingly digital world, what is new is the number of on-campus students who are supplementing their studies with on-line courses.
The original intent of offering virtual classrooms in addition to traditional ones was to help students who lived too far from campus or who needed an alternative pathway. Now, as lines blur between the two (even "real" classrooms often have electronic message boards and drop boxes), colleges are having to rethink their purpose in offering on-line courses. Should it matter that a student could be living on campus and yet rarely or never set foot in a lecture hall? Should priority in college acceptance be incumbent upon an agreement to take a high percentage of "face to face" courses?
"Then there's the question of whether students are well served by taking a course online instead of in-person. Some teachers are wary, saying showing up to class teaches discipline, and that lectures and class discussions are an important part of learning.
"But online classes aren't necessarily easier. Two-thirds of schools responding to a recent survey by The Sloan Consortium agreed that it takes more discipline for students to succeed in an online course than in a face-to-face one."
I am still very new to the on-line classroom. I will say that it does take more of an effort in the personal responsibility realm vs. a regularly scheduled class. Like a "real" course, it is completely up to me to set my work habits. But, I have to be much more careful about my reading of the syllabus and other assignments. It is not that I can't contact someone with questions---communication in this program seems to be very good---there is just no immediate feedback. I must be more proactive about clarifications of assignments.
At this point in my life, on-line courses are the best fit for me. I can still work and have an income. I do have costs associated with the classes, but I gain in time. I don't have to commute or give up other regular commitments in order to go somewhere and sit in a lecture. I'm ready to be self-directed and am enjoying having time to think and reflect on things---and contribute to the on-going discussion when I'm ready.
I don't think college campuses are going to go away. There is more to the college experience (for those who pursue it immediately after high school) than just the lecture halls. In addition, there are things (like chemistry labs) which could never be the same in a virtual situation. But I won't be surprised to find more and more on-line offerings in the future.