Article by John Aldrich, Navy Spouse (Ret.), Associate Vice President for Military and Community College Outreach at American Military University

A popular debate in higher education today is online versus classroom instruction.  The passion for both forms of learning can run as deep as the fervor of baseball fans over the long-standing rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. But, unlike baseball, there does not have to be a winner and a loser –both of these can be great options for military spouses.

While my wife served in the Navy, I experienced both forms of learning.  In fact, my favorite class in college wasn’t taken in either a traditional or online classroom– it was a course taught via video-cassette! 

Traditionally, military spouses attended college part-time at schools located on or near local military installations.  Classes were typically offered at night or on weekends at installation education centers and other base locations.  This type of educational experience has worked for many and it remains a viable option today. 

But, in the past ten years, attending school completely online or in a blended learning environment has become an attractive choice for many military spouses as well as active- duty personnel. The online/on-ground format offers greater flexibility since you don’t have to travel to a campus or be in class at a particular time. Instruction and homework can happen anywhere, at any time. You get the opportunity to interact with other students who share your interests rather than your geography and study with expert professors who can stay active in their fields because they don’t have to be at a physical campus.


There is significant academic research that supports both forms of learning, and even universities that once solely offered traditional classroom experiences now support and deliver robust online degree programs.  In fact, as reported in National Affairs, many university studies indicate that online instruction is equal to or better than face-to-face instruction (Butler, 2012). Another study found that online learning can be more challenging and that learners are more likely to directly apply what they learned in the electronic classroom to their career and life.

While it is true that military spouses are faced with a variety of challenges when trying to complete their educational goals, the decision on which form of learning to choose, online or traditional, should in no way be a deterrent.  There are many great programs, online and traditional, from which to choose.  Even in the midst of military life, you can accomplish your educational goals. ***

Sidebar: Comparing In-Person and Online Learning

In-Person Learning

  • Attend and participate during scheduled class times, called “synchronous” learning
  • Typically one professor teaches you face-to-face in a physical classroom
  • Students are typically local to the university campus and surrounding area
  • Assignments and scores are discussed and given our during class
  • Students use computers to research and complete assignments

Online Learning

  • Work on your own time according to a pre-determined assignment schedule. This is known as “asynchronous” learning
  • One professor interacts with you online via visual presentations, message boards, and videos
  • Students participate from around the globe and are primarily working adults
  • An online learning management system (LMS) is used to post and collect assignments, announce scores, and more
  • Students use computers to research and complete assignments



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