If you are planning to go into further education, you have the advantage of choosing between physically going to a bricks-and-mortar university or college, or deciding to study from the comfort of your own home by taking an online course. The latter is often the choice of older students, or parents of young children, who don’t want to go back to education full-time, or who need the flexibility to take care of household responsibilities. There are both pros and cons to online education courses.
Overhead costs are generally lower for the institution providing an online course; therefore the overall cost to the student is lower. In addition, because the student can study at home, there is no need to move home, pay transport fees, general living costs and other costs associated with living on campus. Students will hopefully also find that, because most of the course materials will be available online, there won’t be the need to buy too many books. Parents will be able to fit their studying around children, largely negating the need for childminders. The financial pluses are many and may be one of the most tempting factors to consider when looking at the pros and cons of online education.
Flexibility of schedules
Another big advantage of online education courses is the flexibility. It isn’t necessary to be at a particular class at a particular time, apart from perhaps the occasional teleconference, so studying can be fitted in to suit the student. This enables students to work, or to care for children during the day and then catch up with their studies in the evening. Many courses will allow students to complete courses in their own time, so those who find it hard to keep up with a heavy course while carrying out other responsibilities are likely to benefit greatly. The choice of study location is also far more flexible, only limited by Internet access.
Ease of access to materials
Instructors putting together online courses need to ensure that their students are able to get their hands on all the necessary information, especially if they are not able to access a suitable library with ease. There will therefore be a wealth of literature available online. Most instructors will try to provide more interactive material as well, including online lectures and podcasts, which means students could theoretically have access to lecturers from all over the world. All that is necessary is a good enough computer to cope with all the downloading that will probably be necessary.
Availability of courses
Along with access to materials is the wider availability of courses in the first place. At one time, students of less popular subjects would have been limited to a handful of universities nationwide; perhaps even fewer if the student is limited to a particular location. Now, online courses are becoming so popular that students will be able to choose from a wide range of courses, without having to compromise on quality. It is also much easier to find a course designed to suit the student, so that the student walks away with exactly the package that they wanted, rather than having to study unwanted subsidiary courses simply to get the qualification at the end.
Lack of social interaction
Many adults have fond memories of their time spent at university or college; the friends they made and the social life they had may well stand out more than the course itself. Contacts made will be great for networking and finding jobs after graduation. On the other hand, online students may never meet their fellow students or teachers and, apart from the occasional email contact, may never develop a relationship that stays with them past the end of the course. This may be unimportant for some students, who already have a career and a family, but younger students may miss out on the social interaction.
Less teacher/student contact
It isn’t just the lack of social interaction that can be a problem. Online students may find it hard to get a timely reply from a teacher who is only accessible online. Some online teachers may have responsibility for vast numbers of students and, apart from the odd email, may not have much time to concentrate on individual students. Those students who are struggling to get to grips with the course may find this very off-putting – to the extent that they eventually just give up, believing that there is little point in continuing with a course that even the teacher isn’t particularly concerned about.
Need lots of self-motivation
Self-motivation is vital for online students, particularly if allowed to set the pace. Most students will begin a course with lots of enthusiasm, eager to find out what the course involves. However, it is easy to lose interest a few weeks in, particularly if it isn’t exactly what they were expecting. Deadlines may be so loose that it doesn’t matter if an assignment is a few days, or even a few weeks, late. Life also has a habit of getting in the way. A break-up with a partner, or the illness of a loved one can distract students from their studying and, without anyone to nag them back into it, they may give up, or end up taking much longer than necessary.
Students studying online will need to have a good computer and all the necessary peripherals. Unfortunately, computers aren’t always as reliable as they should be and it can be a disaster if they crash or break down at a crucial time. Getting to grips with new software can also be an issue for the technically-challenged. Students at bricks and mortar institutions have the luxury of a technical department, so should be able to get help with any major issues – and of course, there should be plenty of assistance available for those who have difficulty getting to grips with the technical expectations of the course.
The suitability of an online course really depends on each individual student and his or her needs. However, it is certainly a viable option in today’s world.