Online Universities’ Advantages and Disadvantages


Online institutions of higher learning are manly virtual institutions set up with the intention of providing education to people who cannot or who don’t want to go through the traditional system of education (Snart 1-10). These universities do not utilize traditional settings like lecture halls. This kind of system is famously known as e-learning. In the world of today, every person is not just different but unique, as well (Visser 2-4).

Every person has methods of learning that best helps him or she navigate through educational needs. Some people can learn best by applied methods; whilst others find that learning from a traditional setting or even textbooks helps them to better achieve their educational targets. This paper will discuss online education or virtual institution of higher learning with associated benefits and challenges.

Before online education is gaining popularity only today but it has come a long way. Therefore, this paper will begin by delving into the developments that have led to the emergence of present-day online education. When discussing the benefits and drawbacks, the paper will mostly emphasize the importance of education, technology, cost, time, and interaction.

Developments in online Education

It is not well known who conceived the idea of distance learning. However, what is well known is that it dates back to the earliest times of the 18th century in Europe. In 1728, for instance, an advert appeared in the Boston Gazette by a teacher who individually sought students who would not mind learning through mailed lessons (Evans, Haughey and Murphy 3-6). This led to the conception of the distance learning idea.

Distance learning

The idea of distance learning was first offered in the mid-1800s by Isaac Pitman. He mainly relied on a shorthand system where texts transcribed into shorthand mainly on postcards were mailed to the intended students and also received the assignments from students through the same mode (Savin-Baden and Wilkie 241). This was a two-way system. Ultimately, distance learning was fully adopted in Britain in the mid-1800s and was made more possible when the country introduced postage rates that were uniform.

The success of this system led to the establishment of the Phonographic Correspondence Society. The aim of this society was mainly to look into ways of formalizing these courses. The society also facilitated the establishment of a number of colleges across the UK, in the name of Isaac Pitman.

University Correspondence Courses

The University of London was the first to set up an external program in the 1850s. The organization at this university at that time defined what is called distance learning in modern times (Heaney and Walker 65-67 ). The differences between the main university and its affiliates led to state intervention where the examining body and the learning institutions were supposed to be different. In short, there emerged a standard distinction between examining and teaching.

Afterward, the base was set for the establishment of a program within universities, in this case, the University of London, that would administer examinations as well as award qualifications to students strictly those taking instruction or education at a different institution or those registered students taking courses without the help of anyone(Savin-Baden and Wilkie 242-247). People like Charles Dickens even branded the system as “the University of the people”.

He used the phrase to depict the significance that was associated with online or virtual learning. That is, it provided an alternative to students particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds to access higher education. Although the idea was in the mid 18th century, enrolment to the program increased steadily in the late 19th century.

In the United States

It was at the University of Chicago that the concept of distance learning famously called extended education was developed in the US (Evans, Haughey, and Murphy 6-8). The university had a number of small colleges especially those offering education across the country. Harper also encouraged and advanced the idea of correspondence courses in schools in the early 1890s to further promote education. This idea was adopted later by Columbia University.

Following this move, both international correspondence schools and enrollments started increasing (Evans, Haughey, and Murphy 3-6). By 1894, the university posted record-high enrollment particularly new students. By the early 1900s, the university had a total of about one million students. This growth was necessitated by the process of sending out college textbooks to students taking distance learning.

These programs were mainly suited for the aged or people who were highly involved with other responsibilities such as family and workplace. The institution of the association of corporation schools way back in the early 20th century enhanced the efficiency of distance learning education (Evans, Haughey and Murphy 4-6). During this time, a student from remote areas who wanted to pursue distance learning was able to achieve their dreams via correspondence courses. The main goal of this educational system was to offer inexpensive, tailored education for students. Mainly this was achieved through the pedagogy of recording, testing, differentiation as well as classification.

The use of television and radio

Broadcast educational programs were adopted by a number of public universities and colleges in the United States right after the great depression. This was as a result of the increased use of radio in the country (Evans, Haughey and Murphy 10-16). In 1948, the radio was mainly employed as a medium for none traditional education or distance learning by the University of Louisville. Enrolled students would on top of receiving study materials via mail, listen to live school or classroom instruction by way of campus radio.

Open learning Universities

The program was first developed in Britain in the mid-1960s. This model was used to widen access to higher education. The open learning system played an important role in creating an alternative learning program for the traditional system. It significantly changed the capacity of the traditional program (Abrami, Bernard, and Bures 82-84 ). In addition, new and better technologies were developed in tandem with evolving distance learning education.

These technologies were mainly to be used to make the system more interactive and better or similar to the traditional setting so that students may not feel that they were pursuing something different from what they knew. Open universities around the world use technologies of distance education as methods or channels of delivery (Evans, Haughey, and Murphy 3-6). A number of universities across the United States adopted this program mainly by combining telecourses with computer-aided or assisted instruction. This contemporary technology for learning has been vital to the establishment of online distance learning.

Advent of the Internet

The increased uses of the Internet and computers have helped a lot to transform the system of distance learning. They have made it easier for virtual institutions of education to offer full curricula to registered students online. A good example is Jones international University that was launched in the mid-1990s (Evans, Haughey, and Murphy 3-6). It is a fully online university and the first of its kind to be accredited in the United States.

With this, distance education evolved to gain a new meaning. That is, distance education or e-Learning is a formal activity of learning that takes place when instructors and students are cut out or separated by time or by physical distance. Its, unlike the past, entails not just learning, but also exploring course materials via online tools such as online discussion forums podcasts, educational web sites, and video/ audio lecture recordings (Liebenberg, Chetty and Prinsloo 250-254).

The programs became common at the turn of the 21st century with increased enrollment being registered in some of these virtual institutions of higher learning. A number of studies have established that of all students who enroll in institutions of higher learning across the United States, a significant number of them are pursuing online courses in institutions that have been certified.

In general, distance-learning or online education started evolving a long time ago, but from the analysis, its recognition has been growing particularly with the introduction of enhanced technologies. Today, a number of higher learning institutions offer online curriculum from the most fundamental or basic instruction (Evans, Haughey, and Murphy 3-6). The accreditation levels of the institutions vary significantly. Harvard and Stanford University also offer online or distance learning courses.

These institutions have a good history in the field of higher learning and are highly respected. According to the accreditation body in the US, DETC, some other online institutions of higher learning are not highly checked, they receive little oversight from external sources, and a good number are or have been found to be uncertified or unaccredited (Malik 19-20). By around 2009, about forty-four states in the United States had sanctioned online learning programs fully.

The MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

The developments in online education have led to the establishment of Massive Online Courses. MOOC is a modern-day model for delivering or facilitating online education to any person willing to take a course online (Malik 19-20).

It has no restrictions on attendance. MOOCs usually utilize video lectures. In other words, new technologies are added to the traditional teaching style. Given that the program attracts a high rate of enrolment, Massive Open Online Courses call for instructional design that makes it easier for students and their instructors to interact online. Mainly, MOOCs utilize two major strategies the first is group partnership and peer-review (Carliner, Verckens and Waele 2-15). The second is automated feedback via online evaluations and assessments. MOOCs usually use multiple-choice tests that are machine-based as well as written assignments that are peer-reviewed as the basic methods of assessment.


Expand access to training and education

As has been seen from the above background, both merits and demerits of online universities can be deduced. Online Universities can expand access not just to education, but also training for institutions/organizations and the public in general (Carliner, Verckens and Waele 2-15). Because they are flexible in terms of scheduling lessons. This aspect also helps in navigating challenges resulting from job commitments or personal responsibilities.

There is an issue of institutional capacity as well. Online universities help in eliminating constraints associated with traditional institutional capacity. There is also the prospect of enhanced access to students and professionals from diverse backgrounds. In addition, it provides a platform for lifelong learning particularly for the aged people who cannot fit in a traditional setting or simply are beyond the normal age of going to schools.

Provide an enhanced communication platform

Since within the realm of education communication is very important, online educational programs can offer an all-inclusive method of communication. This is premised on the fact that technological advancements have led to the generation of tools that enhance communication amongst instructors and their students, as well as their colleagues (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). The system particularly fosters communication amongst students.

This is one of the many opportunities it offers as these students need to access as many sources of information as possible to be well-grounded. In addition, the current online communication offers another opportunity for students to fully interact with accredited programs and schools especially those that do not offer in-person learning across the globe. Through enhanced communication with their peers in different institutions of learning across the globe, these students get to develop an array of thoughts.

This is advantageous to them as they get the rare chance to integrate or relate their views with those of others and develop a learning base that is strong (Butcher and Sieminski 71-73). Studies have shown that a majority of students pursuing online courses have become familiar with the existing differences in interpretation as well as constructions of meaning amongst different people they interact with online. This aspect helps them to understand a range of different points of view in education.

The best option for poor students

The turn of the 21st century has brought with it the unbelievably high cost of living and high cost of education particularly in higher learning institutions both private and public. This, therefore, means that students together with their families cannot afford it, especially when a family has more than two children who want to pursue higher education at the same time. It is due to this fact that students are looking for an alternative through online universities (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71).

As opposed to traditional education, it is cost-effective to pursue online learning and can save students and their families a lot both in transportation costs and tuition fees. The other expense that will be avoided through online education is the cost of buying textbooks. Course textbooks today are available in electronic form and can be obtained at a much cheaper price than the print forms used in a traditional setting (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). Furthermore, a number of online higher learning institutions have entered into partnerships with online libraries that provide learning materials for free. This further reduces the cost of acquiring higher education through online institutions.

The unsatisfying traditional setting

There are a lot of limitations associated with traditional class settings. For instance, lessons are done just once. However, when it comes to the online or virtual setting there are good learning experiences and in the end, students feel more contented with what they have acquired (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). This is premised on the fact that lessons are provided to students for review anytime they wish like based on their needs.

This aspect allows students to have control of education. That is, they can analyze areas of strength and weaknesses as well as areas they feel still need some more focus (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). The other things are that with a learning environment and proper course instruction are provided; online education provides a good learning experience that is more satisfying for students. In fact, there is some association between enhanced learning and high contentment.

Thus, when students are provided with a supporting environment, they become motivated to learn and can also post encouraging results. Online-based interactions foster reflections particularly for those students in research-based programs. As it fosters prompt communication with clients on different issues and this is because of the close supervision associated with the virtual programs (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). Supervision for an online program is not limited to certain periods and days as opposed to preplanned periods associated with the traditional system of education. With continuous supervision, students pursuing online courses feel that they are secure as they can not just access their instructors easily, but can also have their concerns addressed in good time.

Students with Disability

For many years people with disabilities have suffered a lot due to failure by institutions to develop facilities that cater to their specific needs. Some of these things may include, although not limited to special lavatories, on-campus transport, and special pathways (Butcher and Sieminski 69-71). Therefore, online learning becomes the best alternative for such students. In addition, applying collective approaches to online learning courses particularly during their developmental stages can enhance the accessibility of education to students with varied abilities, styles of learning, disabilities, as well as varied languages.

Some students are usually not allowed in a traditional school setting because of their bad behaviors. In this case, online learning can offer the best alternative as they will not be in a group to continue their bad behaviors. Online education provides a chance for young people to continue with their education. With online education, they get the chance to pursue their education right from their places of residence getting a chance to contribute to the development of society. However, without such kind of an opening such students would easily end up miserable and even turn into criminals something that does not benefit society.


Verification aspect

There are many drawbacks associated with virtual education. Given that it is hard to verify a diploma that has been obtained online, it can be a daunting job finding a job or being employed by anyone. In the future, such graduates are likely to face employment-related problems. It has also been established that few are well qualified and a few have been able to secure jobs with such certificates in the formal sector.

Furthermore, in the field of education, live communication with instructors and fellow students is very important. This is based on the fact that it is easier to gauge the capability of students as well as to learn and gain knowledge better (Heaney and Walker 65-67). Traditional settings offer a great environment for knowledge enhancement through live discussions. This does not mean that e-classes or online platforms do not offer such an environment but the argument is that the available interaction cannot be compared to the interaction in a real-life setting.

Furthermore, some basic skills needed particularly for those who want to pursue online education. For instance, if the student is responsible he or she will be in the position to manage time appropriately and this will likely increase their morale towards achieving their best in education. Online education may not be the best option for those who lack such personal skills.

Lack of accessibility

Accessibility is an important factor when it comes to online or virtual education (Visser 2-4). Students pursuing online education may be required to have access to virtual communities or electronic learning grids which may not be easily available to all. In some countries, for instance, it has been reported that some of these tools are not available and if they are available then the price is usually expensive an issue that disfranchises potential students making it hard for them to pursue their courses of choice online.

Lack of motivation and self-discipline

In most cases, students are usually young in their early or late adolescence, meaning that some form of control is needed for them to perform better or put their acts together (Sussan and Kassira 543-544). The argument is that if such students are left to operate within their normal range of autonomy then, instructors are likely to find it hard managing their behaviors.

Technological changes

Technology is also another shortcoming for those who want to pursue online education (Brooks-Young 171). It must be recognized that not everyone has the appropriate equipment as well as a reliable Internet connection. Online education relies on these things; therefore, without them, it becomes more difficult to pursue an online course. Sometimes those who have this equipment are also discouraged as they are not a guarantee that things will be done as planned.

This is because some courses lack technical experience making it hard to offer or attain wholesomeness in terms of training and learning. In other words, distance education does not have a provision for practical skills which is important especially for research-based courses (Malik 17-22).

Since online education is an evolving thing, students and instructors some times find it hard to operate some advanced technologies involved. Specifically, this happens to instructors who are teaching or monitoring students (Visser 21-25). This is based on the fact that most instructors went through or acquired their qualifications from traditional institutions of higher learning, which means that a good number of them, especially those who are newly hired are not conversant with online academic or learning tools.

Different structure from that of a traditional setting

Generally, as one works on his online degree, he or she will be having access to a virtual classroom which is similar to that in a traditional setting. The difference is mainly in the way the structure is explored (Visser 10-17).

In a traditional setting, there is a direct discussion with student’s approaches and there is also a likelihood of meeting them promptly. On the other hand, in virtual learning, students only have one way of interacting with their peers that is through discussion forums or over the email which does not have real experience as they do not know each other. In addition, it is difficult to manage time in online group discussions as they do not take place in real-time. For students who need instant feedback or discussion with their instructors, online learning is not the best alternative as it restricts such interaction.

Issues with Pre-recorded educational materials

Some virtual or online institutions of learning still use pre-recorded educational materials especially in places where such materials can be delivered on time. These materials or video materials have been associated with a number of problems (Liebenberg, Chetty, and Prinsloo 253-254). Some of the challenges associated with materials that are recorded entail high costs involved to create such materials as well as the possibility that such materials could be used with the specific application only.

This easily posses some limits of using such kinds of materials. Some problems result from the format used (Butcher and Sieminski 60-63). At the moment, most virtual institutions of higher learning make use of digitized materials that are available online. However, it must be recognized that a general program that can be used to share such materials within different platforms or institutions is not yet available.

The inequality with technology

“Whilst education in the 21st century is the great equalizer, between the children of the rich and the poor, technology seems to be a new platform of inequality” (Carliner, Verckens and Waele 2-15). Students from underprivileged backgrounds are highly disfranchised by the online system of education. These students do not have access to the Internet and even software that is needed for online learning. Students from less wealthy backgrounds also are less likely to access to high-tech equipment such as computers at home. In addition, when they have access to computers they lack the basic skills needed for someone undertaking an online course.


Online education has been evolving and is still evolving. As it has been established, it started way back in the 18th century through mails. Then the use of radios and television followed but with the invention of the Internet, things changed drastically. Obviously, it can be seen that this system of education has been evolving with technology. As far as virtual education is concerned, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with it.

As has been seen from the above discussion, online universities provide additional access to both training and basic education to the public in general. with flexibility in scheduling lessons, students can easily navigate challenges resulting from job commitments or personal responsibilities. Online universities also help in eliminating challenges associated with traditional institutional capacity. There is also the prospect of enhanced access to students and professionals from diverse backgrounds. In addition, it provides a platform for lifelong learning particularly for the aged people who cannot fit in a traditional setting or simply are beyond the normal age of going to schools.

If students do not have the appropriate equipment as well as reliable Internet access, then pursuing online education may not be the best option. The advantage is that online education comes with good flexibility that allows students to participate in any place as long there are necessary equipment and the Internet. This is based on the fact that students are not in any way affixed to a schedule similar to that of the traditional system of education.

As employment is concerned, online learning will always come second to traditional education. It is easier to prove the validity of degrees in the case of traditional education compared to virtual learning particularly for those colleges that are not accredited or certified to offer such courses. When it comes to communication, in virtual learning nearly everything is performed over the Internet, as such students miss the real experience with their fellow students and lecturers.

As it has been established, not all courses are offered or can be offered online some of these may include biological courses that require research in a lab and under the instruction of a physical lab technician. In other words, courses that require real-life practice are not offered online. As it has been established, impediments to effective online learning encompass hurdles such as continuous disturbances, undependable technologies, as well as the involved expenses, sufficient support services as well as support from instructors.

A good number of students usually enroll in a virtual institution of higher learning without the basic training required. This training may entail proper training of the tools such as computer-aided programs. As such, proper training on these online tools must be offered to the student to enable him or her to have an easy time. This is based on the fact that not productivity can result especially when there is a lack of sufficient technological skills.

Therefore, virtual institutions are supposed to manage impediments well to enable students to learn without hindrances. As it has also been established, students pursuing online courses tend to drop out more often compared to those pursuing traditional education. Partly, this is associated with the difficulty in the languages used, problems with managing time, as well as a lack of necessary or supportive study skills.

Works Cited

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Brooks-Young, Susan. Critical technology issues for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2006. Ebscohost. Web.

Butcher, John, and Sandy Sieminski. “The Challenge of a Distance Learning Professional Doctorate in Education.” Open Learning 21.1 (2006): 59-69. Print.

Carliner, Saul, Jan Verckens and Cathy Waele. Information and document design. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 2006. Print.

Evans, Terry, Margaret Haughey and David Murphy. International handbook of distance education. Oxford, UK : Elsevier, 2008. Print.

Heaney, Caroline A and Natalie C. Walker. “Applied & Pedagogical Reflection The challenges and opportunities of teaching sport and exercise psychology at a distance.” Sport & Exercise Psychology Review 8.2 (2012): 65-71. Print.

Liebenberg, Hanlie, Yuraisha Chetty and Paul Prinsloo. “Student Access to and Skills in Using Technology in an Open and Distance Learning Context.” International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 13.4 (2012): 250-268. Print.

Malik, Sangeeta. “Challenges Encountered by a Distance Learning Organisation.” Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 13.3 (2012): 17-25. Print.

Savin-Baden, Maggi and Kay Wilkie. Problem-based learning online. San Francisco: Open University Press, 2006. Ebscohost. Web.

Snart, Jason Allen. Hybrid learning: the perils and promise of blending online and face-to- face instruction in higher education. San Francisco: Praeger, 2010. Ebscohost. Web.

Sussan, Aysar Philip and Reem D. Kassira. “Performance, Measurement, and Competitiveness in Distance Learning Technology.” Competition Forum 7.2 (2009): 542-547. Print.

Visser, Lya. Trends and issues in distance education: international perspectives. Charlotte, N.C: Information Age Pub, 2012. Print.

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Premium Papers. "Online Universities' Advantages and Disadvantages." January 13, 2023.