The popularity of online schools has grown over the past several years. As computer technology advances, so does the structure of online courses. Improvements in technology have made online schooling a more accessible option for traditional colleges and universities.
Online schools are a relatively new phenomenon and is constantly evolving. Teachers and students alike are becoming more familiar how to navigate online courses, and programs continue to improve.
Online schools, as with anything, have their advantages and disadvantages. Although students receive just as valuable of an education in online school as in a campus-based school, whether or not their particular learning style is compatible with the structure of online courses determines if the pros outweigh the cons.
Pros of Online Schools
- Time flexibility. Online courses are convenient because students may log into the course material whenever it suits their schedule. Of course there are deadlines regarding homework assignments and discussions, but as long as the student meets these deadlines, they can read and review course material at their leisure. This is particularly great for those also juggling a career and family.
- Availability. There is a growing number of online schools being established each year. This means that people considering pursuing an online degree can shop around for schools, finding the one that best suits their educational needs and desires. Online degree programs are available that offer certificates, online associates, bachelors, or masters degree.
- 24/7 access to course material. In the traditional college setting, students must rely on their notes in order to remember class lectures. With online school, written lectures are available throughout the course of the semester, so going back to review course material is always an option.
- Location flexibility. With online schools across the world, students can now take classes from a different state or country without leaving the comfort of their own home. This also increases diversity among students, as classes may be composed of people with different backgrounds from around the world.
- Zero commute. This is one of the most appealing advantages to online school, as the extra time it takes to commute to classes, could be time spent completing homework, studying, working, or raising a family.
- Self-Direction. Students choose when and where they complete schoolwork and are able to determine their own pace.
- Multi-media presentations. Many online courses use a variety of media, such as CD/DVD's and a Web Cam, to teach lessons and to aid students in completing their homework.
- Variety of course options. There is virtually no limit to the variety of classes offered through online schools. Students are able to take courses ranging from an associates degree in criminal justice to a bachelors in business administration to a masters degree in nursing.
Cons of Online Schools
- Limited interaction with instructor. Online professors usually have a limited role in teaching, as they primarily guide students through the pre-written or pre-recorded course material, rather than teach it. The majority of the interaction with professors comes from class discussions and feedback on assignments. Some students who thrive in one-on-one interaction with their professors, may have trouble with this format of schooling.
- Technology requirements. Not everyone has access to a computer in their homes, or their computer might not be equipped with the latest technologies, which inhibits their online learning experience. Many online schools are still working to build their technical support, so students may be on their own when attempting to troubleshoot problems.
- Social interaction. One of the benefits of attending courses in a traditional bricks-and-mortar school is the peer-to-peer interaction. Although most online courses do have a discussion area where students are required to talk about specific questions pertaining to that week’s lesson, this is done primarily through writing, making it more difficult to form lasting bonds.
- Campus environment. Online schools lack valuable campus resources such as extracurricular clubs and activities that can be both enriching and educational. This is particularly important for undergraduate students coming directly from high school, as they may find that they miss these opportunities for personal enhancement.
- Time management. Individuals who are prone to procrastination will have an especially difficult time adapting to the structure of online school. Hours of self-directed work are necessary to get through all of the material, including course lectures, video supplements, assignments, assigned textbook reading and discussions. Sometimes obtaining your online degree, especially an online masters degree, require a greater amount of work.
- Stigma. Although online schools have gained more credibility over the past few years. There is a common misconception that online school is easier than traditional schools, and employers may not take your degree seriously. However, 60 percent of employers report that they value an online degree.
- Credit transfer. Until the stigma of online school is eradicated completely, it will remain slightly more difficult to transfer online course credits to a traditional school.
- Financial aid. Not all online schools will accept financial aid, so students who will require financial aid to assist in paying tuition should do their research before sending out any application.
Tips & Tactics:
- Beware of online degree scams, or “degree mills”, that prey on those looking to earn an online degree quickly. These degree mills are usually easy to detect, as they offer a fast degree delivery that you must pay for in advance. Another tell-tale sign is being able to choose which degree is listed on your diploma, for a fee. Always check a program's credibility by verifying their accreditation.
- For the best chances of success, make sure that your computer is up-to-date. This will ensure that you have all the necessary tools to complete your online coursework.
- Minimizing distractions around your workspace is essential to providing a productive atmosphere for online learning. Also steer clear of the temptation to surf the Web while completing coursework.
People Who Read This Article Also Read:
Why Online Schools?
How to Choose the Best Online School
Top 10 Online Degree Myths
What to Expect From an Online School or Distance Learning Program
Different Types of Distance Learning
What Materials and Equipment Do You Need For Online School?
Ten Things to Consider When Choosing an Online School
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See All Guide to Online Degrees and Online Education Articles
The word “college” might make you think of students hanging out in dorm rooms or gathering for classes in enormous lecture halls. But that depiction is becoming increasingly out-of-date as technology provides for more and more ways to learn.
In fact, online and distance learning has steadily grown in popularity among college students, but does that mean it’s a good choice for you? In order to help you answer that question, take some time to compare and contrast traditional versus online education.
Comparing online versus traditional education
Both online education and its traditional counterpart have pros and cons, so it’s important for students to understand what to expect before they step foot—or log into—the classroom. We focused this side-by-side comparison on three key areas that make an impact on a student’s experience. We’ll also take a closer look at what a “blended learning” model has to offer.
Online vs. traditional education: Flexibility
One of the key components to consider when weighing the options is the amount of time you have every day to dedicate to schoolwork. Are you willing and able to attend college full-time or do you need more flexibility to work around your busy schedule?
A benefit to taking online courses is that they offer flexibility to the student. This is a great option for those who already have time commitments with family and work. Online classes will mold with your schedule—and allow you to log into your online course at a time that works best for you, as opposed to having to attend a lecture at a specific time.
Most online courses will follow a weekly format where students are expected to log in, read course materials, contribute to online class discussions and complete assignments prior to the beginning of the next week. You’ll still have plenty to do for each class—but you’ll have more options for fitting this work in around other commitments.
Generally speaking, this is the best option for students who have a little more freedom in their schedules. That said, traditional students do have some flexibility in their scheduling in that some schools offer night classes or classes that follow a schedule where they meet only once per week.
One easy-to-overlook factor when it comes to scheduling is travel time to campus—a long commute can certainly make schedules difficult, especially if you’re planning on working while in school.
Online vs. traditional education: Discipline & self-motivation
Something else to consider while weighing your college options is your level of self-discipline. Both traditional and online education certainly require some discipline to succeed, but there can be significant differences in how learning is structured. These structural differences can have a significant effect on your ability to stay on track.
The increased flexibility of online learning comes with a bit of a trade-off—you’ll need to be highly self-motivated. All college classes require students to keep up on required reading and assignments, but some students may struggle to stay motivated when learning from the comfort of their home.
The best online students develop strategies for staying up to date on their coursework. Things like setting aside time every week for studying and creating a work space with minimal distractions can help immensely.
When it comes to discipline and motivation, traditional education does have an advantage in the eyes of many. The structured schedule of attending class a handful of times per week and having routine face-to-face interactions with instructors can help keep students on task. Students in traditional, on-campus settings have more opportunities to be reminded of upcoming assignments, which can help if you tend to procrastinate on large, time-consuming assignments.
Online vs. traditional education: Social interaction
One final area to consider is the level of social interaction you’re hoping to have as you earn your degree. Do you need interaction from your peers and instructors to succeed and stay motivated? Or do you thrive in an independent study environment?
Social interaction with instructors and other students, while not as common in online courses, still happens regularly. The biggest difference is in the form it takes, with many online student interactions happening via video chat or through online discussion posts.
Some courses may also offer pre-recorded videos of the same lectures given to traditional, on-campus students. If you’re a social learner who likes to ask questions and pick the brains of your instructors, these video lectures can help you earn a deeper understanding of assigned reading materials.
Despite technological advances, traditional education is still likely the better option for those who thrive on face-to-face communication. Seeing and interacting with your instructors on a regular basis can be motivating for some—it’s a little easier to go the extra mile if you know your instructor is likeable and invested in your education. Traditional, in-class settings may also offer more opportunities for spur-of-the-moment questioning or interesting tangents that may help a concept “click” in the minds of students.
Online vs. traditional education: The blended education model
By now, it’s probably becoming clear to you that both online and traditional education each have their perks. So is there a way to get the best of both worlds? One option that is increasing in popularity is called “blended learning.”
In this format, curriculum is designed to implement both traditional, in-person learning and online coursework. The implementation of this can vary greatly, depending on the subject and instructor. But as an example, instructors may require only meeting once weekly for lectures, while assigning projects or other activities for students to complete online on their own time. This allows students to receive some of the positives from face-to-face social learning while still allowing for scheduling flexibility.
Another example would be a program that offers some courses on campus and others online. For example, a nursing program may include an online anatomy course, and a nursing simulation lab on campus. The idea here is that certain courses involve material that is conducive to online learning, while other lessons can only be taught in a physical classroom or lab.
The decision is yours
In the case of online versus traditional education, there is no right or wrong answer. Much of it comes down to personal preference and knowing how you learn best. These learning formats can all be very effective, no matter your personal learning style and situation.
It’s important to do some self-evaluation before diving into a full college course load. To learn more about which options best fit you, check out our article, Ways of Learning in College: Identify Your Ideal Educational Environment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published February 2014 and has been updated to reflect information from 2017.