The idea of achieving a college degree without leaving the comfort of home and the routine of work and family is really a dream come true for many adults. The ease and autonomy of this kind of learning has made degree attainment a reality for many who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.
While online learning is becoming more and more popular and accepted, it does present certain challenges. A successful student will be aware of these from the start and rise to meet them.
The advantages of online education
1. Convenience tops most students’ list of reasons to go to school online. Online means most adults can remain employed, tending to their class work at night and on weekends. Sure it’s difficult, but not impossible. Online also means the time once spent commuting to a night class is now spent completing work. Rather than a fast food burger gobbled down between stoplights, online students may actually have time for a nutritious meal and a few minutes exercise before class.
2. Motivated learners appreciate setting their own schedule and working independently. These students enjoy the flexibility of finishing easy subjects quickly while taking more time for their difficult classes.
3. Those with family obligations, whether young children or older relatives requiring attention, find they can handle family care and earn college credits simultaneously.
4. This kind of learning also prepares students for the work world of the future. Many jobs now—and certainly more in the future—require online collaboration. Learning to feel comfortable working with others in an online environment can begin with the discussion boards and project presentations of an online class.
5. Students are not limited to schools in their geographic area. Any school in the world with an online option is now within an ambitious student’s grasp. This is especially helpful for students in isolated areas.
There are a few disadvantages that any potential student needs to consider and assess. Being completely honest about one’s ability to handle this new way of attending school is crucial. Keep in mind however that most of the drawbacks are just the flip side of the advantages!
The disadvantages of online education
1. Lack of external motivators, whether from peers or instructors, is a real problem for many students. It is so easy to procrastinate or put family obligations ahead of course requirements when there is no set schedule.
2. Another problem: other people may not understand that while the student does have some freedom, there are still deadlines. It may be harder to schedule quiet, uninterrupted study time if your friends and family don’t take your work seriously. Be sure you have their support before you begin.
3. Unfortunately, scams exist and online education is a ripe field for unscrupulous people to make outrageous claims. Play it safe and enroll only in recognized programs, preferably from a brick and mortar institution. Another option is to check with rating sites such as the U. S. Department of Education or Guide to Online Schools.
4. Getting an online degree from a quality institution helps overcome another disadvantage sometimes associated with online learning, the lack of respect some employers hold for such degrees. If you can show that your experience was as rigorous as any on campus experience—and getting a degree from a traditional institution assures that—then your investment of time, effort and money will be rewarded.
5. Students must have decent computer skills and feel comfortable learning new programs. Having easy access to a good computer and high speed Internet are almost requirements. It helps if these are in the student’s home away from distractions such as TV and family activities.
While most people think of a college degree when they think of online education, in reality this type of learning is now prevalent in secondary schools, too. Students may be enrolled in an online school, sometimes called a virtual school, as a result of serious and long-term illness that prevents them from attending classes. Others may be enrolled as a way to make up credits and graduate on time. Some high school students enroll in online classes to get a head start on college or take courses their school doesn’t offer. The flexibility of online learning is not limited to college students anymore.