Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Growth of Online Computer Science Programs

Today’s contributor, Olivia Leonardi is a writer and researcher for a website that helps students decide between computer programming schools and programs. However, this post focuses on alternative avenues of learning web skills as they are increasingly viable and, many would argue, a better way to acquire these skills. Besides, some of the most influential figures in computer science like Alan Turing, a man discussed by this blog, did not have access to traditional programs and turned out alright.

The Growth of Online Computer Science Programs

As technology has become more prevalent in our society, numerous online education opportunities have been made available for aspiring computer scientists. While these programs offer a number of improvements over the traditional college experience, for instance the ability to be creative in a noncompetitive environment, many educational experts argue that there are drawbacks to this format as well. For this reason, each student is encouraged to consider many factors before deciding between web-based curricula or brick-and-mortar studies.

Students today can choose from a myriad of online computer science programs from traditional and elite American universities. Many online bachelor’s and master’s programs mimic the traditional curricular structure of college degree paths and allow students access to university resources. According to Education-Portal, the finest online CompSci programs are offered by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, UCLA and Florida State University.
However, many feel the confines of the ivory tower and inadequate in teaching students skills that require, above all else, creativity and thinking outside of the box.
If a student wishes to forgo the degree path entirely, they can still learn a particular skill related to computer science as many prominent colleges and universities offer free online tutorials and a growing number of open source universities have been springing up. Schools such as Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie-Mellon University offer complimentary courses that introduce code languages, complex operating systems, software applications and other CompSci-related fields. Non-university-related programs have also been explosively popular and give students access to communities of aspiring programmers to bounce ideas off of. For instance, Codecademy (which was launched one year ago) allows students to sign up for free classes and learn about various technological concepts at their own pace while boasting an online community of more than 100,000 students.

According to CBT Planet, online computer science programs offer several benefits to students. Most of these programs are structured to be flexible, and can provide the ideal educational platform for people with other commitments (such as full-time jobs or families). Cost is another factor; while online degree programs are not free, they tend to be much less expensive than traditional college tuition. Finally, the wide range of available programs allows each prospective student to find a program that best matches his or her experience and skill set. For this reason, e-learning can be an effective for novices hoping to learn the basics or experienced individuals who wish to learn a supplemental skill or competency.

However, writes Jacquie Berry of Education Training Info, web-based programs also have notable drawbacks. Independently structured courses, while convenient, can also work against students who do not exercise a high degree of self-discipline. Another disadvantage of learning from home is the lack of opportunities for face to face interaction with classmates, professors and other individuals one encounters on a college campus. This can lead to frustration and anxiety among students if they are unable to grasp certain concepts, and then have no one to consult face-to-face. Some programs have attempted to mitigate this deficit by developing courses with an interactive element; some include video tutorials from professors, forums that enable students to communicate with one another and various forms of multimedia. Still, studies show, many students prefer real-life interaction with teachers and students.

In order to get the most out of computer science education, each student must determine which educational factors are most important. Some thrive within the online setting (and greatly appreciate the flexible schedule these programs afford), while others prefer to learn within a more structured, face-to-face environment. Everyone has a different college experience – but careful consideration of where and how one wishes to earn a degree is the surest way to achieve career goals in the long-term.

Editor's Note:
The views expressed as solely of Olivia, who kindly agreed to share them in this blog. I would like mention that many on-line courses such as Coursera ( are also helpful for students who have been less fortunate of finding quality institute and teachers. ACM has recently published a white paper on the topic and is available at


Unknown said...

Web based study and brick and mortar way are similar and also different in many ways. A student’s choice is the depending factor by which way he/she would like to gain knowledge. Online study is beneficial in a way to keep the knowledge of students up to date while studies involving books in hand give many a times the old information contained with them.
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lizabaker said...

I think the growth on computer engineering degree learners online are expected.