Pros and Cons of Online Education

Mar 17, 2011

Online education can be a great way to earn college credits on your own schedule, but it's not for everyone. Explore some of the pros and cons of studying online to decide if a virtual learning environment is right for you.

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The Plus Side

Cost and convenience are just a few of the major pros of studying online.

Location

One of the main advantages of online education is that classes are available anywhere there is a computer and an Internet connection. This perk is especially important for individuals living in remote or rural areas who can't relocate and don't want to commute to school. It's also useful for parents who study at home with young children, individuals who work full time, or students who prefer to work in the comfort of their own homes or local coffee shops.

Pacing

Online courses allow a student to work at any time of the day or night. This advantage removes the time constraint of attending a traditional class lecture at a specified time. Students can also review class material at length without feeling rushed.

Online learning may be useful for those who struggle to keep up with difficult or fast-paced courses. Some online programs allow students to finish coursework entirely at their own pace.

Savings

There are many hidden savings associated with online study. Most students save money on gas, parking or bus passes when they don't commute. Many students are also able to keep housing and food costs down when they're not tied to a school's location or a traditional college schedule. Online education can give students the flexibility to maintain a full-time job while attending college. Finally, savings may not only be monetary - students who don't commute save time as well!

The Minus Side

Online education may be sounding pretty good right about now, but it's important to remember that there can be significant drawbacks for some students.

Self-Discipline

Students who take online courses should be self-disciplined and excellent time managers. Without having a set time for class, it's imperative that students manage their day to allow for study. An online learner must be motivated to complete assignments independently while also actively participating in online discussions. Those who learn best by interacting with others in person may not be suited for online learning.

Limited Social Interaction

By not taking a course in a traditional classroom, students miss having face time with their professors and other students. This can deprive them of important networking opportunities, as well as basic social interaction. Students hoping to make new friends - or find future business partners - in school, should consider taking at least a couple of courses on campus.

For students who prefer large, anonymous lecture courses, this may not matter much. Students who prefer smaller class sizes and like to ask a lot of questions, however, may find themselves struggling without these opportunities.

There's one final drawback to not having frequent interactions with professors: Students potentially miss out on developing relationships that can result in invaluable guidance and recommendation letters down the road.

Tech Savviness Required

Most online programs deliberately keep their tech specs simple: A word processing program, a PDF reader and a computer and Internet connection fast enough for online learning tools.

But these basic requirements hide the fact that most online education programs require students to navigate potentially complex virtual learning environments, such as Blackboard or Moodle. For savvy computer users, this is no problem. But for those who struggle with the digital age, this can present a significant frustration and impediment to completing coursework.

Learn More

Students who are unsure if online classes are the right choice can contact their institution to find out about specific programs. Many schools that offer online classes have a self-assessment quiz that can also help students make a decision.

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