Pinto: Online learning can never fully replace a university education

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Pinto: Online learning can never fully replace a university education

Yoni Pinto, Columnist

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Lynda.com says it’s an “online learning company that helps anyone learn … skills to achieve personal and professional goals.” Udemy calls itself the “world’s online learning marketplace,” with more than 22,000 courses and 5 million students. Khan Academy offers more than 5,500 videos about topics from math to art history. Harvard, MIT, Stanford and many others offer a huge selection of courses available for free online.

Meanwhile, a November report by College Board showed that college costs kept increasing whereas the real income level has not changed in over a decade, suggesting that paying for college is becoming even more difficult than it already is. In addition to this change, the level of enrollment in higher education institutions dropped for the second year in a row in 2013.

With how financially difficult it is becoming to attend college, coupled with the massive growth of online learning resources, it seems that online education is going to overtake higher education institutions very soon. Maybe we can take online classes instead of going to classrooms, thus avoiding the extra costs of college. Online education is that simple. There are many success stories of people who have taken advantage of these online resources to teach themselves all kinds of things.

This however, brings up a question: If online learning is so good that it can easily replace today’s world of colleges and universities around the world, what are we doing here? Are we just paying for a degree, or are we paying for an education?

Look back on your acceptance to Northwestern. You must have been excited to be accepted here. What were you most excited about? I can almost guarantee that it was not the quality of classes alone.

Yes, NU is definitely a world class institution; it’s a school that is renowned for its academic strengths more than anything else. However, academics is not NU’s only strength.

In online education, academics is the only resource that can be offered. In physical institutions, in colleges across the United States and the rest of the world, there’s so much more than just academics.

There’s the obvious difference of being able to interact with people, both inside and outside the classroom. Instead of sitting in your room by yourself, you can ask questions and have in-class discussions. You can hang out with your classmates at a coffee shop or start a new club together. You have the chance to interact with a miniature real-world and see how your actions shape it, as well as yourself.

These real world benefits are completely exclusive to physical institutions. You can’t achieve any of these in online education. All you can do is sit in front of your computer screen, take notes and complete exercises.

Learning, by definition, may simply be filling your brain with information. But in a practical sense, if you don’t know how to take advantage of the knowledge you earn, that knowledge does not help you in the real world. A physical institution’s biggest advantage over online learning is the real world experience it will allow you to gain. To me, that makes it worth coming here.

Yoni Pinto is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at ybpinto@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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