Options for online education are taking the higher education realm by storm. The Sloan Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group found in a 2011 survey that the number of students taking online classes has passed six million. But debates over the validity of degrees from online programs continues. A 2009 study by the US Department of Education found that “online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction” but it strongly supports a hybrid approach. Hybrid education is a combination of online videos and forums and the traditional classroom experience. Like any decision with higher education, there are drawbacks. The best you can do is be as informed as possible.
The Positives of Choosing an Online Education
- *Adjustable times: With online courses, you watch the lectures and participate in discussion forums on your own time. If you have a full-time job and can’t get to it until the kids are asleep, that’s fine. There are no set times for class, but there are usually deadlines so be on top of that.
- *Geographic flexibility: Your entire campus is on your computer screen. And therefore it can be wherever you and your laptop are. This gives you access to schools that are physically located all over the country.
- *Tech benefits: Online courses take advantage of social media, online discussion boards, and the vast number of options the Internet has to offer. You can connect with your classmates through Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, many schools that offer online courses also offer transcripts for the lectures. This is a great option if you don’t take good notes or struggle with listening comprehension.
- *More technological training. By spending so much time on your computer, you’re bound to become comfortable with various aspects of technology. This comfort can really be helpful in today’s job market and an excellent point to bring up in job interviews when potential employers ask about your educational experiences.
- *Lower cost: Online degrees usually cost less than traditional degrees. With many private schools carrying the hefty price tag of $40,000 a year or more, this is a strong and very realistic benefit of online programs.
The Downsides to an Online Education
Despite the many benefits of an online education, there are some drawbacks.
- *Increased level of self-discipline. Unlike a traditional program, online courses don’t have set times or strict penalties for lack of attendance. You are your own boss and have to stay on top of yourself. This requires an intense amount of self-discipline.
- *Lack of personal connection. It can get a little lonely with just you and your computer day after day. Some people need a face to face connection with other students and professors, and connection solely over the Internet just isn’t enough.
- *Technological requirements. In order to make the online degree thing work, you need, of course, the Internet. So if you’re still in the land of a dial up connection or don’t have a computer that runs Flash, you’re in trouble.
- *Accreditation issues. This is probably the biggest drawback of online educations. Many schools offering online degrees do not have accreditations from appropriate associations. The U.S. Department of Education has a database of which accreditation associations are tied to which schools. According to their site, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”
I, personally, am a traditional kind of girl. I like being in the classroom and being able to go to office hours and having a campus to enjoy. But I can appreciate the kind of flexibility and wide array of options an online education can provide. This post is by no means an exhaustive list of pros and cons. There are more and some will certainly be personal to you, but take care with this decision.
Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes on Flickr Commons