Online vs Traditional Education: Overcoming My Misconceptions


Alvin McCray, Student & Alumni

The thought of going back to school can come with a host of questions and concerns. For me, time was the biggest hurdle. To overcome that boundary, I opted to pursue a graduate degree through an online program. But before I applied to the Brian Lamb School of Communication (BLSC), I listed out my expectations, and sought out the answer to the question, “is online education as good as classroom education?”. With only eight more months before I obtain my communication masters degree, the experience not only met my expectations but also far exceeded any notion I had about online learning.

How many students would be in my virtual classroom?

I can recall back to my undergraduate years, and the first thought that comes to mind was the theater-style seating in my physiology class where at least one hundred students would be listening intently to the professor. A projector would cast onto a big screen an image of the skull to illustrate the zygomatic process of the temporal bone, and we would feverishly take notes. I knew that I did not want to relive that experience so I hoped the online forum would limit the number of students to a normal teacher-to-student ratio in case I required direct assistance with the materials. For me, size really did matter.

Surprisingly, the virtual classrooms at BLSC are large enough so that you gain various perspectives yet small enough so that the professor is able to correspond personally with each student. There have been no more than thirty students in my classes, which makes it easier to build relationships with intelligent, forward thinking people.

Are print textbooks required or will all materials be available online?

Never having an online learning experience, I figured that most of the classroom materials would be available on the Internet – or at least I hoped. Purchasing books each semester in undergrad always depleted my bank account. And the most frustrating factor was those textbooks would never be used again.

This is not the case in the Online Communication Masters program. Students are required to purchase textbooks, usually one per course, which can be found online at or other online distributors of textbooks. The great thing is that the books can cost far less than any of the books I purchased in undergrad. Most, if not all, of the cases studies are provided by the professor and could be downloaded from one of Purdue’s libraries. I am certain the books and case studies are tools that I will refer to throughout the remainder of my career.

Will the classes meet on specific days and times?

The thought of coming home after a long day at work, tending to the family, and then rushing out the door to an evening class was reason enough to delay going back to school. The online course suggested that the experience would be a convenient way to learn and would meet the demands of a busy life.  I had no idea what that meant until the courses began.

The weekly assignment is posted via the Engage platform on Sunday and students are required to respond by midweek. There are no assigned virtual classroom schedules. I can complete the weekly readings at my leisure.  I can then post my response to the assignment at any time before the midweek due date.  As part of the grading criteria, students are required to interact with other students by reading and commenting on their responses to the assignment. The Engage platform allows for full on engagement at my leisure as if commenting on a friend’s Facebook post. It is that simple.

From an appropriate amount of students in my virtual classroom to 24/7 access to weekly discussion boards, the BLSC MS in Communication online program has proven to be much more convenient than I ever thought it would be.  
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Alvin McCray is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.