Online educational classes have several distinct advantages, the most obvious of which is convenience. Also, the distance learner tends to have better access to the instructor. On the other hand, online courses require a student to work with no supervision and without much student interaction. (Procrastinators should not take online courses.) There is another more significant disadvantage: Online educational courses tend to be rather expensive as opposed to their in-class counterparts. (The foregoing may not be totally applicable at universities or community colleges, where online courses tend to cost about the same per credit hour as courses on campus.)
The convenience of doing course work over the web while in your pajamas is undeniable. Online courses, although having due dates for assignments, etc., allow the student to proceed at a generally self-paced speed. Also, as mentioned above, the student has almost unrestricted asset to the course instructor. This might be a significant advantage to the shy student who might be reluctant or embarrassed to confront the instructor in person.
Another convenience factor applies to working adults who need to juggle their studies with a fulltime, all-day job. The course material, assignments, discussion groups and contact with the instructor are just a web site away and can be accessed anytime and anywhere there is web access. Anyone who has attended night classes and dealt with parking fees, bad winter weather will appreciate the more relaxing atmosphere and privacy of the home computer.
Online educational courses (other than at some universities and most community colleges) can be a bit pricey. Some online institutions can run as much as $200-$300 per credit hour, which could chalk up thousands in tuition before the diploma is in the mail. If money is an issue, the online educational course might be prohibited.
Another disadvantage of many online educational courses is that course work is essentially unsupervised. Depending on the course, the student might be able to allow months to pass between assignment or course milestones. The advantage of intense, time-sensitive course work is that it imprints learning through repetition, writing and research, and in a more or less compressed time frame. That advantage is lacking in online course work. Also, there is a lot to be said for the classroom atmosphere where students personally interact and sometimes learn from each other. Again, except in the forum or chat room environment of the online course site, not a lot of student interaction occurs.
SPECIAL SKILLS NEEDED
Neither an advantage nor a disadvantage – more a fact of life nowadays – the distance learner needs to be “computer literate.” Online courseware can either be clunky or complicated, depending on the software in play. The student will need to access the classroom, sign in with a user name and password and understand the organization of the course as depicted on the site. Depending on the subject matter, the student will periodically access chat rooms for discussion forums. The student will need to understand how to upload and download files (word processing, for example), and should be generally competent on the keyboard. Also, online courses are no place for “text-talk” (e.g.: omg, lol, 4u). In the live classroom, students “hit the ground running.” On line, there is a slight learning curve as the student learns the software and where everything is.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Online courses of instruction are convenient but expensive. They offer easy access to the instructor, but tend to stifle interaction between students. Online courses can be quite expensive. They require self-discipline because they are largely unsupervised. On the other hand, sitting at home in a comfortable room in front of your own computer might be the “tie-breaker” here.