Online learning isn’t for everyone. Penguins, for instance, have little need for it. Even non-penguins, though, should sit back and ask themselves if enrolling in an online school suits their needs. Here are a few things to consider before you jump into the world of cyber-learning.
If you’re not sure whether an online education is for you, a good first step is to examine your personality traits and character strengths. Are you a good planner? Do you have strong self-motivation skills? Are you a disciplined learner? Can you meet deadlines? Are you comfortable working on the Internet and with email? These skills could impact your decision to study online and will certainly contribute to your success in doing so.
Your Career Status
In addition to your personal skills, your individual career status could have an impact on your decision to enroll in an online school. Most people contemplating online classes fall into one of four categories:
- Recent high school graduate: Online classes could help ease the fear of physically moving away to go to college, as well as reducing the cost of room and board. Then again, younger students tend to desire more social interaction, so a traditional school might be more appropriate.
- Employee looking to make a career change: Taking classes online could allow you to study to enter a new field while still working at your current job.
- Employee looking to advance in current career: Enrolling in an online school allows you to study in your free time without leaving your job or moving to a new city. Since your studies should benefit the company, your boss might even agree to pay some or all of the cost of your schooling.
- Employee returning to the workforce: If you’ve been away from the workforce because of family commitments, taking classes from home can prepare you for a return to working without taking you away from your family. If you’re an older person returning to the workforce, an online school may allow you to feel more comfortable than physically attending classes with younger students.
No matter who you are, there are several distinct advantages to online courses that have helped make them an increasingly popular alternative for people around the world:
- Geographic convenience: Online classes are available wherever you are, as long as you have a computer with Internet access. You don’t have to travel to a physical location to take classes, and with the advancement of mobile devices, you can literally learn on the run.
- Time convenience: You can access an online course at the time that is most convenient to you. You can even set your own pace, slowing down if you need more time to understand a concept or speeding up if you feel that the class is moving too slowly.
- Cost: Online schools are typically less expensive than brick-and-mortar schools, especially when you factor in costs for traveling, lodging and food.
- Comfort: There is no need to get dressed (or bathe, for that matter) to attend an online class. Also, some students might feel more comfortable working from the safety of home and engaging in discussions online rather than in person.
- Online materials: Course materials are often readily available online, meaning less expense and effort to buy books, take notes and record lectures.
- Course availability: If you live near a school that doesn’t offer the class or program that you want, chances are you can find an online school that does.
- Technological options: With online classes, it’s easy for professors to incorporate technology like videos, Web links and other multimedia elements to help illustrate relevant points in lectures and course materials.
- Clarity: Since virtually everything conducted online is available in writing — be it e-books, emails or online chats — there is less room for misinterpretation.
- Transparency: Online students can typically access the status of their progress, including grades, at any time, helping provide clarity and reinforcement as they work towards their goal.
- Practicality: Most online classes are targeted to adult students, so they tend to be straightforward and practical with what they teach, focusing on the basics that an adult worker would need to know to succeed in his or her job.
- Fairness: Since there is no face-to-face interaction, there is no risk of prejudice based on race, gender, physical disability or appearance, making online courses a uniquely objective environment.
Of course, online courses aren’t a perfect option. Here are some reasons why students might hesitate before enrolling:
- Solitude: Although students in online classes are able to communicate with each other and with professors via email, chats and posting boards, some people need in-person interaction in order to learn properly and maintain the motivation needed to succeed in class. If this sounds like you, you might need a classroom atmosphere to maximize your learning potential.
- Need for discipline: While you will often have assignment due dates, online courses generally are less structured than traditional classes. As such, there is an increased need with online classes for self-discipline in planning out your coursework and motivating yourself to follow through with assignments and studying. Time management is a big key to succeeding in an online course.
- Accessibility: Not everyone owns a computer or has easy access to the Internet, so for some people, online courses could involve as much physical effort as attending a traditional class.
- Knowledge of technology needed: You don’t have to be a computer wiz, but you do need a certain level of computer literacy and comfort with the software and technology you’ll need to take an online class.
- Greater risk of accreditation problems: The Internet is littered with unaccredited online “diploma mills” that grant worthless degrees. Make sure the schools you’re interested in are properly accredited before enrolling.
- Greater risk of employer hesitation: Some potential employers might be hung up on a perceived stigma attached to online degrees. However, as more people take online courses and more online schools attain accreditation — ensuring that their academic standards are up to par — more employers will realize that online training can be just as effective as in-person training.
- Weaker alumni networks: Because of the personal interaction, traditional schools tend to have stronger alumni networks than online schools, allowing graduates to more easily help each other find jobs and otherwise provide support. However, many online schools recognize this and are increasingly establishing alumni networks for students.