Written by: Thomas Broderick
Both recent high school graduates and nontraditional learners can take advantage of online classes. Online courses offer flexibility, affordable tuition, and a variety of academic opportunities. Distance learners who want to experience learning on campus can enroll in hybrid courses, which blend classroom instruction with online learning.
In 2019, Santa Clara University surveyed hundreds of distance learners about how online learning impacted them. Respondents answered questions regarding their ability to interact with peers and professors, how well they could study in a virtual environment, and whether they would recommend online learning to others. For most questions, more than 50% of respondents recognized and appreciated the benefits of online classes.
Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of online education and how it can help you achieve your education and career goals.
1. Scheduling Flexibility
For many learners, the primary benefit of online learning involves scheduling flexibility. Some programs allow degree- and certificate-seekers to start a course immediately. In other cases, students can select between a traditional 16-week course and an accelerated eight-week course. This page highlights accelerated courses' advantages in a later section.
Although many online courses run asynchronously to provide maximum scheduling flexibility, some require learners to collaborate with peers at set times or meet with a professor during virtual office hours. Prospective students should research these requirements before signing up for an online course.
2. Lower Total Costs
Many prospective students overlook the cost advantages of online classes. Although online learners may pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus degree- and certificate-seekers, they do not pay for on-campus housing or meal plans. Learners also save time and money by eliminating a commute.
Other cost savings include cheaper textbooks, especially if online learners can purchase digital versions. As long as online learners take enough credits to qualify as part-time students, they can apply for federal financial aid programs, such as grants and loans. Most colleges also allow online degree- and certificate-seekers to apply for institutional aid, including need-based grants and merit-based scholarships.
3. More Comfortable Learning Environment
With the ability to study anywhere, online learners can complete coursework at home, a coffee shop, or a library. This advantage of online learning allows students to work in the environment that best suits them. As new online degree- and certificate-seekers research different places, they should focus on those that offer a reliable internet connection and few distractions. Another factor to consider is space requirements, as some facilities' tables may lack the space for a computer and reference materials.
4. Pacing Options
Before taking an online course, learners should understand three terms that can define the online learning experience. The first term, asynchronous, refers to a course that does not hold scheduled meetings. Students complete work at convenient times but must still meet assignment deadlines.
The second term, synchronous, describes the opposite of asynchronous. Like on-campus courses, synchronous online courses maintain set meeting times where the professor instructs learners over Zoom or another video conferencing service.
Lastly, accelerated refers to courses that last fewer than 16 weeks. Accelerated courses post the same academic requirements and work best for learners with no external work or family obligations.
5. Geographic Flexibility
Another advantage of online education that relates to flexibility involves prospective students' geographic location. Many of the nation's top colleges and universities offer online degrees and certificates, meaning that learners do not have to relocate to attend a premier school. They do not incur moving expenses since they can study from any location. This flexibility also saves money, as the cost of living among different cities can vary greatly.
Besides saving money, not needing to move means that degree- and certificate-seekers do not need to end friendships and professional relationships. They can also live closer to extended family members. These advantages of online classes can lead to greater emotional well-being and less stress.
6. Career Advancement
Nontraditional learners enjoy two significant advantages of online classes related to career advancement. First, a certificate or degree can qualify an employee for a raise. Second, some companies restrict management-level positions to employees who possess a bachelor's or master's degree. Earning a degree can lead to a promotion that may also involve increased wages.
Besides tangible career benefits, most online degrees and certificates also allow learners to continue working while they study. Students can work during the day and complete coursework in the evenings or on the weekends. Additionally, learners who work can apply new knowledge and skills to their job immediately.
7. Improve Your Technical Skills
Learning online can help students hone the technical skills they need on the job. New skills can include the ability to use new software suites, perform in-depth research online, and communicate effectively online in various formats such as discussion boards and teleconferencing. Employers often demand these skills as more and more positions require employees to work remotely. Students can also add new skills to a resume and discuss them during a job interview.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do online college classes work?
Online courses use learning management systems to deliver course content, allowing students to submit assignments and communicate with peers and professors. Most online programs use either the Blackboard or Canvas LMS. From the Blackboard landing page, learners can see grades, create an academic portfolio, and keep up with deadlines with a calendar. Canvas confers many of the same benefits of online education, including an outcomes feature that displays students' mastery of course objectives.
Many schools use an LMS for asynchronous courses, which allow learners to view recorded lectures and complete work at any time. However, even if a course uses an LMS, students may still need to fulfill synchronous requirements such as live virtual sessions.
Synchronous and asynchronous courses allow degree- and certificate-seekers to write papers, read textbooks, and perform research on their schedule. However, some course requirements, such as tests, may require proctoring at an authorized testing center. This center can include the college or university's campus or a closer school that offers these services.
Are online classes easier than traditional on-campus programs?
One benefit of online learning involves course rigor and professor expectations. The same grading standards apply to on-campus and online learners. As a result, online courses prepare students for their future just as well as on-campus courses. Additionally, accreditation agencies evaluate online courses and approve only the best ones.
Although online courses maintain the same academic requirements, learners may feel less challenged. This phenomenon occurs due to the advantages of online education that include academic and career flexibility, cost savings, and less stress when scheduling courses. Another reason that can make online courses feel easier occurs if the courses' format aligns with students' learning style and academic support needs, such as virtual tutors and career advising sessions. Satisfying this personal preference can make for a more enjoyable experience and improve educational outcomes.
How does accreditation for online classes work?
When searching for an online degree or certificate program, first ensure that the school possesses regional accreditation. The United States contains six accreditation regions, each with a different agency that has a charter from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). These agencies review colleges and universities in their region to ensure that the academic programs provide the educational outcomes that a school advertises to prospective students.
Some institutions do not possess regional accreditation, and as a result, employers may not regard the degrees from those schools as valid. Prospective learners can determine whether a school has regional accreditation by performing a simple search on the ED website.
Colleges and universities that offer online degrees and certificates need additional accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). The DEAC measures whether online programs' quality matches the quality of on-campus programs. If so, a school receives accreditation.
Can I still get financial aid for online classes?
The advantages of online classes extend beyond the learning experience. Although requirements vary slightly among schools, online learners still qualify for federal financial aid programs, such as grants and loans. Some universal eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship, and for men, registering for the Selective Service.
Learners can qualify for federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA. The FAFSA asks questions regarding applicants or their parents' finances. The latter applies if applicants' parents claim them as dependents for federal tax purposes. Before completing the FAFSA, gather information from the previous year's tax returns and other relevant financial information.
Online students can apply for institutional or private scholarships to finance a degree or certificate. Using a specialized search engine, current and prospective learners can research and apply for the best opportunities.