Always examine the pros and cons of attending a class vs. taking an online course when continuing your education.

An active lifestyle in retirement doesn’t just mean having a gym regimen and weekly games of pickleball. Staying active mentally can also have enormous implications for overall well-being.  Recent research has concluded that education into seniorhood can slow mental aging by decades, lead directly to a longer life, and can bolster abilities like memory, problem-solving, and abstract thinking.

When deciding to go back to hitting the books, it’s important to know all of your options. With the advent of online learning, students now have an alternative to the brick-and-mortar institutions that have defined public learning for millennia. Before driving to campus or signing up for online classes, you should understand the benefits and drawbacks to online and campus learning. Those who choose online learning instead of campus learning require a high level of organization and terrific time management skills.

Without traditional classroom times, office hours, and built-in study groups, students who choose online learning have to be self-motivated to get their coursework done without the usual support that comes with campus learning. The information that comes from lectures or group discussions is often left to the student to learn on their own time. This option is great for students who don’t want to be committed to certain hours on specific days and who are aware of the natural mental rhythms of their waking hours, choosing what times work best to maximize their learning.

Online learning also has the added, and somewhat unintentional, benefit of developing familiarity with new technology, keeping you fresh and aware of the newest systems on the internet and guaranteed to keep the grandkids impressed. Another benefit of online learning instead of campus learning is location. Don’t live near a campus? No problem. The Internet is your campus. Don’t want to waste valuable time getting to and from classes? A reliable internet connection is your commute. Taking online courses is a great way to save time and money, especially since some colleges and universities charge lower tuition rates for online courses (don’t forget about senior tuition rates too!).

A drawback to online learning is that it is still a new method, especially when compared to the face-to-face practice that has had thousands of years to develop and hone itself. Some universities are struggling to replicate student involvement that takes place in the classroom to an online setting. Also, depending on the kind of coursework or degree you are interested in pursuing, some programs require internships, lab work, or extracurricular activities, making the benefit of online learning minimal or even nonexistent in some cases since you’ll have to travel anyways. Recent research has also suggested that online learning, by taking away the personal interactions in a classroom setting, requires more time for students to retain the information.

Although online coursework and materials are highly portable (you can access your coursework on a computer, tablet, and probably your phone), they still are not as effective as reading printed materials. The digital classroom also reduces social interactions and peer-to-peer learning. Campus learning, on the other hand, is perfect for active adults who want to have a more social learning experience, in and out of the classroom. Many colleges and universities have groups specifically for continuing education students where you can find like-minded classmates who share your experiences, passions, and coursework.

Being physically present in a classroom also establishes a relationship not only with your peers but also with your professors. If the class is small enough and taught by a professor, most will take a personal interest in your own success and development. Active adults and retirees who choose campus learning also enjoy the added benefit of access to campus resources. Most colleges and universities have expansive libraries, computer labs with the latest equipment, free in-person tutoring, events, lectures, and discounts at local restaurants and stores.

Continuing education students should also consider how they learn best when choosing between campus and online courses. Campus learning is terrific for students who prefer set schedules and who want more structured days. Also, the experience of being in a classroom helps students retain information and it allows for more active discussion and social learning, a dynamic that cannot be replicated on a discussion board.

Preferences for online or campus learning comes down to the individual and their location, what they plan to get out of taking courses, and, most importantly, how they learn best. Active adult communities throughout the US are located near many universities and local colleges that provide access to both.